I am at Royal Dragon, a Chinese buffet wonderland, in the deep dark back end of California’s Gold Country. And with me is game designer, developer, and connoisseur JonnyPac Cantin. Jonny is an artist through and through, and amongst potsticker-laden game theory, we also ramble on about design, music, and the psychology of games.

DTD: Oh, this looks great. Yeah, this is going to take a couple trips. I could spend a weekend here.

JPC: It’s worth the drive, I’ll tell you.

DTD: Without a doubt. When I was a kid, there were a jillion buffets that had, you know, 10, 12 rows of food. Just enormous amounts. And this is like that, but the food is actually good. That sounds terrible, but…

JPC: Going to go back for some sauces. Get some sauce for you?

DTD: Sure. I was going to head for some rice. Because if you have sauce and it’s splashing around, you need rice. That’s the cleanup.

JPC: I think they got the white rice there and the brown rice there [pointing]. Don’t forget your soup there [pointing back to buffet].

DTD: I got soup.

JPC: Isn’t that it there?

Sure enough, I had carefully poured myself a nice cup of hot and sour soup, and then left it at the buffet. Undoubtedly, I was being kind and leaving it for the next person, so they would not have to work so hard. Seeing as the place was empty, I casually went back and retrieved my soup.

DTD: Oh, that might be mine. You swapped me out sauce for soup, and I got confused. I’m on it. I’m slow, but… [laughs] You got all the sauces.

JPC: Gotta do your mustard bomb. Special brine. There’s a long dirt road from the back of my house to this place, so if I want to take a real country drive, I can go out there in the sticks, National Forest, and take these roads and cut back in and end up here. That’s a fun one.

DTD: So, The Mind—it just reminds me, in art in general, in board games, too. We are always building off of other people’s work, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. It’s really rare you’ll see something that’s actually unique, that’s actually really different. Everything kind of evolves, so if you compare a game from the 1970s to a game now, they are very different, but it was baby steps all the way. I mean, have you run into any recently, that you’ve looked at and said, “Wow, that’s crazy different”?

JPC: Probably not in some ways. Because I didn’t play as many games and I was exposed to a sprinkling of these things, and I have that conclusion, but just the sheer volume of stuff that I’m exposed to and play these days is… Looking back at all the stuff I’ve played in the last…Essen to now, I’ve played an enormous amount of games, and it’s… 

DTD: Me too. And you’re at that level where you can say, “Oh, I see elements of this and elements of that.”

JPC: Exactly. Even though, something like, Masters of the Renaissance, it’s like, “Well, that’s a cool way to generate resources by pushing marbles around a little tray.” And the rest of the game might be derivative of resource management and engine building and stuff, but a little mechanism like that is enough to get me pretty excited about something, and really enjoy my time. So, it doesn’t need to be revolutionary.

DTD: Oh yeah, that one excited me. But I think they were trying to stay derivative, because they wanted it to be Lorenzo the Card Game, so they had to retain—well, I don’t know if the chicken or the egg came first, if they were working on a game, and went, “Let’s just make it Lorenzo [il Magnifico],” or if they were working on a Lorenzo Card game and purposely retained it all.

JPC: Yeah, I don’t know, “[Lorenzo] The Card Game,” if the card game moniker is very accurate, because a lot of the card game “games” work mostly with cards, and that one… you’ve got player boards, you’ve got resource chips, you’ve got marbles in the plastic tray. A lot of that stuff, if you didn’t call it “the card game” and just called it a game, nobody would know the difference.

DTD: Well, the original Lorenzo is a card game as well, in that aspect. I think as much so. It would be more, “Masters of the Renaissance is “Lorenzo, Not the Dice Game.”

JPC: Yeah, exactly.

DTD: But they did a really good job keeping it simple, keeping it easy. That group over at Cranio, they do really good stuff.

JPC: Yeah, I follow them pretty closely. Even if they do something that’s not Cranio, but it’s some of the same designers. Because some of those guys did—I don’t remember their names right now—but they did Egizia and Leonardo da Vinci. It would be those games where they have kind of a conglomerate thing of guys.

DTD: Yeah, there’s a whole group of them.

 Here’s a list of those amazing designers for various Cranio Creations Games:

Leonardo da Vinci: AcchittoccaFlaminia BrasiniVirginio GigliStefano LupertoAntonio Tinto
Barrage: Tommaso BattistaSimone Luciani
Lorenzo il Magnifico: Flaminia BrasiniVirginio GigliSimone Luciani
Masters of the Renaissance: Simone LucianiNestore Mangone
Egizia: AcchittoccaFlaminia BrasiniVirginio GigliStefano LupertoAntonio Tinto

JPC: And they split off in various ways and cross-pollinate and stuff. I kind of follow them to wherever they go. I was wary of Barrage because all the people complaining about the manufacturing of it. Supposedly, the retail version had addressed that, so I finally pulled the trigger on it this week. Haven’t played it yet.

DTD: No, I haven’t picked up Barrage, but it’s on my radar. I’ve got a couple friends with Barrage, and I’ve watched some playthroughs at the conventions, but you see bits and pieces. Recently I’ve been really enamored with Maracaibo and Cooper Island.

JPC: Those are kind of the big Essen hits of the year, I think.

DTD: They’re both big, heavy pirate games with relatively simple mechanics in there. They’re just very, very good. Newdale is on my list as the next one to play out.

JPC: Yeah, I want to play that too. I was talking to Klemens Franz a little bit about [Expedition to] Newdale, and he was telling me how they had Oh My Goods of course, and I think part of the conception of Newdale was he just started drawing a board, and creating this board thing inspired a lot of projection of how it unfolded. From kind of an organic process like that.

DTD: Very cool.

JPC: Yeah, from what I gather, he’s pretty tight with Lookout, of course, because he does so much work with them. But obviously the designer and him, it sounds like they get together and have probably those fun nights where they sit down and make stuff.

DTD: That’s awesome. Because he’s almost like the Lookout house artist.

JPC: Yeah, feels like that. I would be surprised if I saw a Lookout game that didn’t have his work.

DTD: It would look odd. Especially if you had a “feed your people” heavy euro Lookout game.

JPC: And he’s very, very prolific. Consistent quality-wise.

DTD: Him and Ian O’Toole are just on fire. And his art is all over the place. He could do anything. It could be very minimal, very elaborate. It could be realistic; it could be abstract. I’m really impressed.

JPC: I like these guys that can see the—I make art assets, I hand them to the publisher, they have an in-house graphic design guy. They assemble it there. I don’t know the rules, I’ve never played this game. They ask for a spaceship, I drew a spaceship. That’s the kind of thing I think needs to stop happening as much. And you get these guys like Ian or Klemenz…

DTD: Someone who plays the game.

JPC: Yeah, they play the game, they understand it, and they see the mechanisms. Dennis Lohausen, who did Quacks [of Quedlinburg] and Terra Mystica and stuff; You just get a sense that they see the whole thing on the table, like with Quacks. Here’s your board, and here’s how the chits fit into other chits, and you put the potion on the potion tray, and you put the rodent in the rodent bowl.  And the books are splayed open.

DTD: Like Taverns and all that.

JPC: Yeah, like Taverns. You are flipping these things over, and…

DTD: The merging of the graphic artist and the artist.

JPC: Yeah, it is, it is. It’s almost like it’s gotta be one brain, even though those are two separate skills, and a lot of people will argue, “Oh, I’m a graphic designer, I’m not an artist. Don’t mix me up with this.” And I feel like, you need that musician who’s also not only the songwriter but also the arranger. [laughs] Some people only do one, some people only do the other. That’s a special thing, [doing both].

DTD: Oh absolutely. So, you were doing a lot of board game development as well, weren’t you?

JPC: Yeah, I am. That’s what allowed me to do that full time now, between waiting and hoping that royalties come in because something does well 2 years after you design it, I’m able to do development work, freelance. And get paid every 2 weeks or the month, whenever I send an invoice. [laughs] Get paid, so that works. I think that the thing with me is I really need to like the project, and not just take something because I need the work. Again the musician thing, if it’s not a type of music I know how to play, and they say, “Hey we need a winery gig and we need somebody to come up here and play classical guitar,” I don’t go down to the shop and buy a nylon string guitar and pretend to be [Andrés] Segovia.

DTD: I was just going to say Segovia.

JPC: Yeah, sure. So it’s like when I was doing development work on Merchants Cove, it was on a very, very tight timeline. When they handed it to me, and when I needed deliverables. And the designer was a little wary about developers just coming on and not having time to make it good and whatever else. And I had to talk to him, and he’s a musician—he plays drums and bass. I was kinda like, “Look, I’ve looked over the game. I’ve played the prototype. I’ve worked with this publisher; I’ve talked to them every single day of the week. We are on that kind of a basis, so I don’t need to develop a [new] relationship with the publisher and you. And the type of game that they want to publish off of your prototype is the type of game I like, and it’s a type of game I understand. I feel like this is a type of music I know how to play, and I like it. And I think I can do the gig.” I said I wouldn’t bite off something I really think is out of my league, and I’d just say pass. Or maybe the publisher needs to put this in a different spot in the queue. And so, he was accepting of that, and I still felt like I needed to show him that care was put into it, and did this kind of crackerjack development job on it, and just kind of got obsessed with the game, spent a lot of hours on it, and they were using the whole clock. Because we would playtest here in California and do stuff, and then at the end of when we were going to pass out, we’d send over all of our work to Macedonia, and they would just be waking up, and they would do their work. And they would be starting to pass out, and…

Merchant’s Cove went on Kickstarter in August 2019, and successfully funded within the first hour. The game is scheduled to deliver in the summer of 2020, barring any viral pandemics.

DTD: That’s just efficient.

JPC: Yeah, so we were using the whole clock, all the king’s horses, all the king’s men on this thing. And the other developer, Drake [Villareal] felt the same way about it. We just really enjoyed working on the game, and ideas just—a wellspring of ideas for that product.

DTD: That’s really cool.

JPC: It was great! So that really was like my first developer’s gig where I really fell in love with the thing, where instead of taking something, doing a few tweaks to it, handing it off, not knowing whether or not those tweaks will make it into print or not, or if it will get shelved. Or what. At first, I was a little intimidated, because I was doing this, like probably a lot of people, in relative isolation. And you don’t know if you’re stuff is good. I was listening to a podcast with the acquisitions guy from Mayday when I was working on games one day, and it was “How to take rejection from a publisher, and not be…”

DTD: Devastated.

JPC: Devastated, or take it the wrong way. So he was going on telling people, “Every game that gets pitched to me is Arena Combat or it’s Talisman that has been re-skinned, or it’s Rummy, and they don’t know it’s Rummy, and then they pitch it over and over.” It’s like, “Don’t pitch me Rummy, don’t pitch me Talisman. And don’t pitch me Arena Combat.”

DTD: And don’t tell me “It’s just like this game but…”

JPC: And kind of here, you go to Protospiel or UnPub, and you see 200 games in a weekend, and how easy it was not to fall in love or sign those, because you take those 3 criteria out of the equation, that leaves you only a small subset of the games to look at.

Protospiel and UnPub are open gatherings for designers and wannabe designers to show off their new ideas. They are great places to get feedback from the community, or in certain lucky cases, to catch the eye of a publisher.

DTD: I get it. I have played a few prototypes that have ended up at the game store. Somebody who’s not affiliated with anyone just made a game and wants some feedback on it. And they’ve been kind of bad. And then they don’t really want feedback.

JPC: Yeah, exactly. They want to be told it’s as good as they think it is. “Quit drilling, you’ve hit oil.”

DTD: Everybody is in love with their baby.

JPC: I was sitting there just thinking, “Man, I’ve probably got Dunning-Kruger like the rest of these guys, and I’m sitting here making this in my studio, thinking I’m onto something cool, and I was actually prototyping what would become Fistful of Meeples when I was listening to that podcast. And I was getting ready to go to San Jose ProtoSpiel

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a principle in psychology that states the following: The worse you are at something, the worse you are at judging your skill, and therefore the better you think you are at it. So if you are really bad at making board games, then you may think you’re good at it; you don’t have the skills necessary to tell that you stink. It’s a mean fact of life. Listen to other people. Sorry.

DTD: That’s a good group, though. They are really nice guys.

JPC: I was like, there’s like 70-something designer tables sold out. I’m going to be one of them; I think I’ve got something special. And doubting myself, bringing it down there, and on my way, I forgot the board to my board game. Luckily, I had e-mailed somebody at Print And Play. So, I found in my outbox the file, and I went over to a FedEx store and recovered it and they printed it there. Came back to the ProtoSpiel and went to this designer mixer and sure enough from Utah they had flown out the acquisitions guy from Mayday, who the day before I had been listening to his podcast, recognized his voice.

DTD: Same guy?

JPC: Same guy. And I was like, “Whoa, I just listened to your podcast, good to meet you!” and all that.

DTD: “I have an Arena Combat game for you.”

JPC: [laughs] Yeah, exactly! Pretty much. And he is a really friendly, nice guy. And we are friends still. And the next morning he says, “Hey, show me what you got.” And I was like, “OK…” Sat down and looked at it, and he said, “You’ve got a really good game on your hands here. This is great.” I was like, “Oh wow! I thought I would hear the story that you have to tell some people…” And he said, “This needs to be signed. It’s not for Mayday, but this needs to be signed.” And he texts Scott Gaeta [Renegade Games] who is on the back side of the room, he says, “Scott, come over, you need to check this out.” And a few other publishers. And they sat down, and at the time Scott liked it, but it was only a 2-player game … I thought Mancala – 2 players. I just didn’t think 4 players. I thought maybe it would have a Five Tribes problem, that it just turned into utter chaos. So, he says, “Ah, this is cool, but can you make it 4 players?” And I was like, “No. I don’t think so.” So, he says, “Well, here’s my card. Get back to me if you do.” And so, long story short, I wasn’t able to hook up with Scott again, and eventually signed it with Final Frontier.

DTD: I always thought that the developer position was absolutely fascinating. Being able to take the game and muck with it, and add this, take away that. And tweak it up. Because I’ve seen too many, what I would call the “first designer problems.” I’ve seen it with music, the very first piece that someone does. Or books, the very first novel that someone writes. Or games. They are crazy. They don’t know the rules set. They don’t know the subtle lines of what am I supposed to limit back, and what am I supposed to…so, they go crazy, and sometimes they’re very, very good, and sometimes they’re very, very bad. Because there’s this element of just explosive energy in there.

JPC: Yeah, I hear that. Like some bands will have their first album, their big break-in. They have a novel sound, they’ve been working on it, touring around in their little van by themselves for a long time, and they want to get signed. And the first album is just a game changer for them.

DTD: But it’s wild. Because everyone they knew said, “Oh, you can’t do it that way.” And they did it anyway. And usually there’s a couple of songs that are amazing on there, and two times a couple songs that are almost unlistenable.

JPC: But then you get some of those guys, like Miles Davis, that will reinvent themselves every time it stagnates, or The Flaming Lips might be like that. They start off as a grunge band, they do that for a bit, and they get kind of indie orchestral sounding, and then they do weird stuff, where they reassign all their parts of their songs onto tapes, and they go into a parking garage, and they play all the tapes at once. And it’s this crazy pan-stereo concert [laughs]. And they do something else, where they lodge a 24-hour song on a USB drive in a real human skull and sell each one for $5000.

DTD: Which works…

JPC: It did. I listened to it for 24 hours one time. It’s a long song.

DTD: That’s like Warhol films. Art for the sake of art. I’m usually turned off by that, but the one I remember that really impressed me was The Residents Commercial Album. [It] was, they were complaining that music was too commercial and too set, and it had to be just this long. So, they have an album of exactly 40 songs that are exactly 1 minute long each.

JPC: I didn’t hear that one.

DTD: It was a neat statement. A weird one. So, that begs the question, and I think I have asked it to just about every designer. Are you, right now, making games for you, that you love? Or are you making games for the public, that they love? And the third one is, are you making games to make money? I’ve gotten very different answers. I’ve had some people say, “I hate my games, but I look at the market and people really like this, so that’s what I made.”

JPC: Gosh.

DTD: And then the extreme the other way is Friedemann Friese, who basically said, “I make games I love and could care less if people buy them.” And they are crazy games; he does some really weird stuff.

JPC: Yeah, I wonder about that. I must fall somewhere in between in all that, because if I don’t enjoy it, if I don’t find something novel about it, a thing that needs to exist, then you’re just adding to the noise of the world, and you’re adding to the noise of your life. It’s arbitrary.

DTD: There’s a lot of businesses that make money that way. You look at Disney and its sequels, you know they’re just there to churn the money.

JPC: I don’t think I’m connected to anything that offers that kind of money, so…I don’t have a relationship with a publisher that has a direct channel into mass market, for instance. So, that’s not one of our goals. And so, it’s pretty geared towards the hobby market. We could say that that’s like musician’s music, the hobby market. So, in a sense the publisher…

DTD: It’s the passion project rather than the financial project.

JPC: Of course, everyone wants to have a multi-million-dollar Kickstarter.

DTD: Yeah, you want the Gloomhaven [$4 million, 40 thousand backers] or the Scythe [$1.8 million, 17 thousand backers].

JPC: Yeah, exactly. Everybody wants that, but—because you don’t want to see something flounder and just not do well, not get produced, and have to work put into it, and all that. So, in the end, I want to keep doing this. Let’s say I need enough money to live, and live a little bit better. In this last year, I was able to… I still have a used car, but I was able to actually put some new front-end stuff on it, so it’s not a death trap anymore, right? So just basic maintenance. I was getting ready to fix something that doesn’t need fixing in my house, and I was like, “Maybe I should buy a new one…” It was a skylight, a limb fell on it and cracked it, and I was up there, “Oh, I could tape it up and spray paint that, and… No, just buy a new skylight, and mount it up there!” And I did. That’s the kind of stuff, where I don’t need to duct tape everything I own and to run it into the ground right now, which is great. And beyond that, I don’t really have expensive tastes, except in board games, and of course those retain some of their market value. You can flip a board game for 30-40% of what you pay for it, easy.

DTD: Still? I thought they dropped like stones. Not so much because of the inherent value of it, but more for the cult of the new. You know that game I bought 3 months ago? Nobody is looking for it. There’s a couple that are grail games, evergreens, and you kind of know that you’ve got it and people want it.

JPC: There’s a safety to buying, like if there’s a big Kickstarter, and you decide “Should I go in the retail pledge or should I go with the Kickstarter pledge?”, you’ll have a better chance on the secondary market with the more expensive one, because somebody will have FOMO, they will see their friend’s copy.

DTD: “I wish I got that!”

JPC: They’ll be like, “Oh man, I’ll pay that.” Yeah, you can flip that for the price you paid, usually.

DTD: For a very long time, if you just backed every Cool Mini Kickstarter, you could be pretty sure that you could sell it back for the same or more. I think that is starting to decline, though.

JPC: I think I have a pretty good hit rate with what I like, what I buy, though. So, as far as flipping stuff, a lot of times I will be hip to the game that somebody thinks I’ll like.

DTD: Do you rate your games?

JPC: I rate the ones I own. I feel that…there are people who rate everything they play, and they’ll play it once. And I feel like if I rate something I own, there’s something special about that, is I can continue to modify that rating as I repeat play that thing, and I have a relationship with that product. Whereas if I just play something once, and I don’t see it full grasp, and I just say, “I hate this thing. I give it a 3.” That’s probably some other dude [designer] out there trying to make his thing, and somebody else saying, “I hate Coloma because it’s all luck.” It’s like, no, there’s very little luck in Coloma. It’s just, you’re not interested in reading people, is what you’re saying. Because there’s a big player-meta in that game. And I know what you’re trying to say. It’s fine that you don’t like it, but if you play this once and you play with your head down, and you’re just trying to min-max your own tableau and not look up, and you’re surprised that you went to the build site when everybody else went to the build site—you’re not playing the game right. So, it’s…there’s that. But if nobody wants to play that way, then it’s not the right game for them, and I dig that. But I do reason that if they give me a 1 on BGG for it, because it’s—it’s kind of like saying I hate this restaurant, because I hate sushi. And it’s a sushi restaurant.

In Coloma, all players secretly select which action they want to perform that turn. If you are the only player who selected that action, you get a better version. If you are part of a group, the action is lessened. Some may say it’s random if other players select the same action as you, but if you watch closely, you can guess what actions will be popular.

DTD: Well, you shouldn’t go there.

JPC: It’s just not for you. I don’t go on and—I don’t like Twilight Imperium. I’m not a big 9-hour 4X kind of guy. I played it with a lot of expansions, with people who like it, and I don’t feel like…I haven’t rated it on BGG, nor will I, because there’s a lot of people that love it, and it hits the sweet spot for them. And it’s the Saturday-full event, that they probably get snacks, and their buddies, and their Mountain Dew, and it’s probably a great time for them. And it’s not for me to say, “I hate it because it’s 9 hours. 1. 2.” So, I don’t rate something like that. I just let it go. Let that be for who it is. Now in contrary, if I feel like I’m doing the world a service, like warning somebody, because you play a game and it’s…

DTD: I rate things, but I find that I like many more things than I dislike. So, it’s pretty rare that I give a bad rating. Then you get that guilt of, “Am I actually really rating these games?” Because my average rating is like an 8.

JPC: Yeah, sevens and eights.

DTD: Well I tend to not buy games that I hate.

JPC: Yeah, me too. Exactly. My ratings tend to be high. Another thing about it, is—people don’t like to give 10’s, because they feel like the best game is yet to be made, and a 10 is reserved for the perfect game. And it’s kind of like, OK, not all 10’s are made equal, let’s put it that way. There can be a 10 that’s a kid’s game, and there can be a 10 that’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen. And maybe they’re both a 10. And so, a lot of times the 9 is most people’s 10, and the 10 is just this unreachable thing.

DTD: The holy grail.

JPC: When you see a 9 on a game, you go, “Oh, this person gave a 9. That’s cool.” And if you look, and they gave one game a 10, or no games a 10, you realize that 9 is their 10. That’s big. And some people don’t understand the rating system on BGG, and I’ve seen somebody that has on their page it says, “I give a 1 to games I don’t like, a 2 to games I kind of like, and a 3 to games I love.” And you go, like, “That’s not what the algorithm is expecting, and that’s not signaling what…”

DTD: And the BGG ratings are used for so much more than your personal ledger. I mean careers are made and break on the ratings. And the most important thing with those ratings, again, is the number of votes.

JPC: And there’s another guy who sets all of his ratings to 1 and goes up from there with plays. So, I got a 1 on Coloma, and said, “What’s up?” And I looked at the guy[’s profile], and he bought just about every cool game at Essen, rated them all ones, and they have a thing that says, “Want to play.” So, it’s like, this one—it actually took Coloma Deluxe Edition from an 8 to a 7.9 on the day he did that, so I’m a little resentful. [laughs]

DTD: And there are some just purely malicious, internet troll kind of personalities. Where they are mad at the company, or they are mad at the store that sold it, and they just give it a trash rating.

DTD: I had a really good time with Santa Maria. It had really good mechanisms and things, and I think that got hurt a little bit by the cultural implications. People used it as a dartboard. They really got upset with it.

JPC: Awww, did they? I missed that. Interesting, because that year it came out, it was the sleeper hit of that Essen. Then people started to talk about it, and it came to BGG Con and it sold out real quick at the Funagain booth.

DTD: It was so good.

JPC: I was trying to grab a copy of Gentes so I got there at the crack of dawn and grabbed that, and then the pile of Santa Maria was going. A friend picked it up and was raving about it. And then a few months later it came out, and so I got it first thing. Loved the game, just loved the mechanisms in it.

DTD: That dice play [in Santa Maria] is so interesting, with the logic and the puzzle of moving the dice along, and trying to figure out what order to get them to go in. So thinky.

In Santa Maria, players have a 6×6 square grid board, with action spaces on the squares. Some squares come with actions, some are placed later on polyomino tiles. Players draft dice, then put the die on the corresponding row or column of their board, sliding it across, activating every square along the way. The die comes to rest on the last activated square, effectively blocking it for the rest of the round.

JPC: It’s funny about that game, I read a designer diary interview with those guys. That dice going across like that wasn’t added until about 2 years into the development I think, of that game.

DTD: It was just a pure place it, do it?

JPC: It was some sort of other mechanism, where you were doing the tiles, and tracks and other things were going on. And then the dice traveling across the board was a revelation that happened later down the path. My assumption would have been, “Hey let’s make a game with this grid, and stuff fires off in this cross pattern,” and build the game out from that. And in fact, it was kind of the other way around. Like it needed that hook, and the game eventually found that hook.

DTD: That’s a pretty interesting, unique mechanic that I really loved.

JPC: Yeah, it’s funny. I had already designed Sierra West, and it was in the pipeline by the time I played Santa Maria, and I was excited about Santa Maria too. Because I saw what was happening, was that there’s a sequence of actions, where this die moves across and it does this [action], and it does this [action], and it does this [action]. And that was…part of the inspiration of Sierra West, was to have these workers that you don’t just put them in one spot, you put [and move] them in a line.

In Sierra West, players have 2 workers, traveling down 2 paths, activating actions along the way. But the workers can go in any order, and even alternate steps. Once again, the order of moving the workers is paramount.

DTD: In what order do you fire them off?

JPC: Right. That was one of those things where I felt like it was kindred, “That’s kind of cool. These guys are doing it this way, and I’m doing it this [other] way.” Ultimately, I probably like Santa Maria more than Sierra West. It’s one of my favorite games. Those guys are good designers, and they pivot – they do different things with different games. This year it was Magnificent, which is a dice drafting game.

DTD: Yeah, got a lot of hype. I haven’t played it yet.

JPC: I really enjoy it. A couple of times now, when people say, “Hey, what game should I check out from Essen?” I’d probably point to that one. I got to go meet they guys, and it turns out one of them is a musician, guitar, singer/songwriter. And back in the day, he used to wake up in the middle of the night with songs. Now he wakes up in the middle of the night with games.

DTD: I love that. I mean, how often does that happen.

JPC: A lot.

DTD: With finished games?

JPC: You mean, done? Nah, it’s more like a riff. Or a fix to a problem you’ve been stewing on.

Rumor has it John D. Clair conceived Space Base in a dream, nearly complete. Someone should interview him about that.

DTD: That I’ve had happen. It’s usually early in the morning. I really believe my brain works better early in the morning. Wake up, the thoughts are processing, or in the shower something clicks.

JPC: Shower, long drive. Long, relaxing drive—not a white-knuckle, trying to find parking in San Francisco drive. Sometimes drifting off to sleep, you get some cool moments there. I think I was drifting off to sleep for Fistful, too. I was thinking about Mancala a lot, and I just kept thinking about how western towns have the strip down the middle, and just these pretty regular sized buildings rowed up on either side of it. And I was like, “There just has to be some game that really uses that mechanism of the fact that these [buildings] are parallel to each other in a relative order. What if there was Mancala and you move the cowboys around?” And I didn’t know anything besides that, so I just drew that up and just started moving meeples around. “I don’t know what these do, but they’re going to do something when they get there!” And that was the start of that one.

DTD: [laughs] One of them’s gotta be a sheriff, and one of them’s gotta be a bad guy. That’s awesome. I’m trying to think what the current hotness is that I’ve got in my hot little hand. Cthulhu Death May Die, I finally played, and I liked it. It came as a big stack of Cool Mini boxes, pretty intimidating. But it’s a really simple cooperative game that just works well. It’s that base mechanism of “you get more powerful as you get hurt.” But don’t let it go too far. And that’s cool. I’ve always been kind of fascinated with the “winning by losing” mechanism. And extensions of that are, like the Loki strategy in Blood Rage, and things like this. Where you have a mechanism that you can use to take advantage of doing poorly. But you need to make that big decision. Even getting points for dead guys in Coloma. I’m really attracted to that mechanism.

JPC: I guess that could be a “shoot the moon” kind of a thing sometimes. Like the Knizia game Poison [also known as Friday the 13th or Baker’s Dozen], where normally you’re not trying to take poison, but if you take all the poison you can do it that way.

DTD: Until someone, you know—especially if it hurts other people to stop you. Again, with Poison. That’s a really good idea. And then you couple that—the other one that I’ve always found fascinating are games that kind of let you end it. So, you need to make this decision, am I at a good place to end the game now, or will I be better off if I let it ride a couple rounds, and then I end it? How good am I really doing?

JPC: That’s an interesting one for sure. That’s kind of debated a little bit, because one thing that can go terribly wrong, is if somebody doesn’t understand the game and the ramifications, and they get into a play pattern that runs them to ending it almost inevitably, then they just end it and they lose. And they hand victory to somebody.

DTD: And they get frustrated.

JPC: Yeah, they just don’t know. [It] happens in Roll [For the Galaxy] or Race for the Galaxy often. If you build a certain amount of buildings, the game ends.

DTD: But you can very quickly make all the 1 [value] buildings and end it, then you’ll lose.

JPC: There’s a compulsion though to do it. Like, Oh I can afford this, it’s a building round, why wouldn’t I? And you do and you do, and the person gets to their 11th building and there’s one more building op, and they go, “Well, I’m not going to do any better than this tableau, because I can’t. I’ve put myself into a corner.”

In both Race for the Galaxy and Roll for the Galaxy, the player is limited to 12 scoring cards/tiles. If you rush the game, and only finish easy to complete, but low scoring goals, you could end the game at 12, but may lose in points to the guy who only did 8 or 10 higher point goals.

DTD: I have one slot left.

JPC: One slot left, so I’ll fill it.

DTD: I still like the mechanism, I mean Everdell has that—you only have a certain number of cards. Race and Roll. And in Maracaibo, you can move your boat up to 7 spaces on your turn. And it ends the round for everybody when someone gets to the end. So, you could crash that game really fast if you were so driven.

JPC: That is neat.

DTD: But then you have less stuff, because you haven’t stopped at as many points along the road. So, it’s a really neat thought experiment there. It probably all boils down to the marshmallow test.

JPC: [laughs] yeah, right. Exactly.

DTD: You could have this marshmallow now…

Next time Jonny and I continue to overeat at the neverending trough of Chinese goodness. Discussion topics flow like lo mein: his new Kickstarter Lions of Lydia, grail games, useless dice, and cheating as a mechanism.

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