By pure happenstance, I have bumped into Glenn Drover, founder of Eagle Games and master designer, while we were both coincidentally trapped aboard the same luxury cruise ship in the Caribbean. I certainly did not stalk him. In this action packed episode, we learn that it is easier to get food if you sit somewhere that serves food, and we discuss various empire games emblazoned with “Glenn Drover” on the cover.
GD: We did a game that was a space version of Age of Empires III.
DTD: I remember when it came out.
GD: Right, and that was heavily influenced by Freedom in the Galaxy.
DTD: Wow. I remember it’s release and when it came out. I never ended up getting a copy. It went through this weird phase, where it was really hot, and I saw it, but then it disappeared.
GD: Yeah, they didn’t do a lot to promote it. It also…
DTD: That was Galactic Rebellion.
GD: Galactic Rebellion, right. And the artwork was unfortunate, and I think that killed it.
DTD: I forget, there was someone’s name at the beginning… It was somebody’s Galactic Rebellion.
GD: I don’t know, it was some guy.
DTD: Some guy. Signs them all.
Glenn Drover. It was “Glenn Drover Empires: Galactic Rebellion”
GD: But, yeah, the artwork was not at all up to spec for this industry at this point. And that I think killed it. Because the game itself was good. And actually, Tom reviewed it, and he was critical of just… He loved the game, but said the ending I didn’t like. And the ending was… Where up to that point the players were competing with each other, similar to Age of Empires III, where there’s area control, and all these different actions you can take including missions and the galactic senate and all these things. But then the denouement of the game was where every planet would have the empire cracking down on the rebellion, and all the rebellious factions. And if you hadn’t… if you had only been competing with each other instead of fighting the empire…
de·noue·ment /dāno͞oˈmäN/ noun
1. the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.
Man, I love this guy.
DTD: You had to prep and be ready for this endgame.
GD: You had to be ready for this thing. And I even warned people in the rules, because I knew this could be a problem. They’ll kick your butts and destroy everyone. And Tom had a problem, and said “We didn’t expect that, and I got killed and I didn’t like it.” And I’m like, “Yes. Play it a second time.” Because if you are ready for it, because it was a co-op in that sense. You had to work together to wear down the empire and actually attack the empire forces. If you just fought factionally…
DTD: But it was a competitive game?
GD: It was a competitive game. But if you didn’t work together in some sense, if you were very fractious with the other factions, you would lose. Everyone would lose. You would just get wiped out.
DTD: That’s a really, really hard mechanic to pull off. Because I’ve seen a bunch of games come out that are competitive games, but there’s a looming doom, and if you don’t contribute to the looming doom, well not contribute to the doom…
GD: Contribute to fighting it.
DTD: Then you’re going to get smooshed.
GD: And that’s what happens in this game.
DTD: It’s that edge of semi-coop.
GD: Right, so I think it wasn’t popular because of those two aspects. The art was off-putting, Ill say. Which is unfortunate, because we always with Eagle Games up to that point, our art was our thing. And it just didn’t deliver on that score. But the game was quite good, it was fun.
DTD: Do you think it was previous hype that hurt it as well, because Age of Empires III is an evergreen, it’s a classic.
GD: Right. Thank you.
DTD: And I am a huge fan of the game, it’s fantastic. And I remember some of the marketing for Rebellion was “It’s Age of Empires III!”
GD: Which it really is. It has more fighting in it.
DTD: The hype was there. “Here’s the game you love, but with space ships!”
GD: And that’s exactly what it turns out to be. But it did have this thing at the end, which was different. That’s totally different from how Age of Empires III worked. Age of Empires, you just fought amongst the players the whole way down. And there was an ending. This was, you did that, and then there was this big war.
DTD: Be ready.
GD: But again, I think the art killed it. In this day and age, you cannot afford to have an ugly game. You can’t. And also, Eagle didn’t market it very much. They did a good job leading up to the Kickstarter, and then the Kickstarter, and then they just abandoned it. So, that was it. But I would say it’s not as good as Age of Empires III, honestly, but it is fun.
DTD: There’s an elegance to it, and Age of Empires III really sets that bar incredibly far for art, quality, components, all that. I was blown away with the size of the box, the stuff in there, the miniatures, the number of things you could do. Everything in there was gorgeous. To be fair, I have the Age of Empires..
GD: The first one, or the second?
The original game was Age of Empires III, put out by Glenn Drover via Tropical Games in 2007. Eagle-Gryphon produced a deluxe reprint in 2015, but the name had changed to Glenn Drover’s Empires: Age of Discovery.
DTD: The new one. Empires: Age of Discovery.
GD: And they did a really nice job on it.
DTD: That redo was beautiful. And I was sold on it because I played it, I played someone else’s copy at a convention and said, “I need to get a copy of that.” I don’t have a shelf that fits it, but…
It’s pretty big. 12.5 x 15.5 inches, and it weighs 10.2 pounds, even though BGG says it’s weight is “3.35/5”. Liars.
GD: [laughs] It’s still one of my favorite games. It’s definitely one of those “lots of toys in the box” kind of games.
DTD: And the roll and write version is coming soon?
GD: [laughs] Yes. Actually, well, hmm….
DTD: [laughs a lot]
GD: Not that we don’t have enough of those.
DTD: Well, they are still hot. And I don’t have much against it. For the most part, the roll and write conversions I thought have been pretty good games.
GD: Yeah, I’ve enjoyed them.
DTD: The dice versions of a lot of these things have been hit and miss, and they might be going down. I think they are going down off their peak. But the roll and writes are still really interesting, elegant designs.
GD: I agree. I think they are fun. And that’s what sometimes is missing from these ginormous, thousands of miniatures games. They are missing the short bursts of fun. You spend 4 hours playing, and maybe you had 2 moments of enjoyment. You did a lot of work.
DTD: But at the end of it though, it’s this feeling of just absolute accomplishment. And it’s all about that plateau. “It’s done. Wow! That was incredible!” That’s the Twilight Imperium moment.
GD: Yeah, if you can get there, right? Like you said, a lot of these big box games don’t have a soul. They are missing that.
DTD: Yeah, lets spend 5 hours, we will move the cubes around.
GD: It’s more work than fun.
DTD: It’s so hard, because sometimes with these enormous games, you will feel some story and some theme and get into it in the beginning, but then it goes on a little too long, gets a little too dry. It becomes very abstracted in your mind. And at the end you are abstractly playing this card for this color to move this piece and pushing that cube and then I’m done. It’s hard to maintain that level of thematic excitement in something longer than an hour and half.
GD: Exactly. I think that getting it down and streamlined to that hour, hour and a half, is better. Id rather have interesting decisions. Sid Meier is one of… I knew him, I worked at Microprose. And he had a few kinds of key game design rules. And one of them was don’t let the game play the game, let you play the game. You should be making interesting decisions. And if you don’t have that in the game, it’s not going to be a fun experience. And I think a lot of games are designed for the enjoyment of the designer – “Oh cool, I want to do this, I want to do this, I want to put this in it.” They don’t think about, is this fun for the player?
DTD: And that’s a huge one that I’ve asked a lot of designers I’ve sat down with, is when you’re designing a game, do you design it for the public, for the market, or do you design it for yourself? And I’ve had answers all over the place, from the very strong, “I don’t like my games, I make these because they’ll sell”…
GD: It’s a shame.
DTD: … all the way to “I make designs that I love, and I could care less if they sell”. And I’ve had everything in the middle.
GD: I think both those extremes are not ideal.
DTD: No, but I have actually heard both.
GD: I believe that. And that was me in the beginning. When I founded Eagle, I was designing games I wanted to play. And it was a mistake. I was designed games that weren’t good games. They looked pretty, and they had some good stuff in them…
DTD: I think for the time, it was probably a really good decision. Because there wasn’t enough of a market to judge what the market wanted.
GD: Good point.
DTD: It was all niche people. You had like 8 niches, and the one who liked the same games that you liked, bought your game.
GD: True, and it was successful. It was a commercially successful move. That company was successful in its early stages, even though the games weren’t good. And then the games got better and better…
DTD: [laughs] You’re being harsh. I think the games were good. But in todays standard, I’m not sure they would sell.
GD: In retrospect. They would not. They would fail utterly. People would mock them. As I do. I’m honest with myself about the quality of the games. And that’s why I appreciate that people love Age of Empires III, because I think it is a very good game. But it took me a very long time to get to that stage as a designer, and I had a lot of bumps in the road.
DTD: But see, you would also… If you did it today, I firmly believe that you would make it [the game], it wouldn’t sell well, commercially it would be bad, and then you would get letters from a couple people who think it’s the best game ever made.
GD: True, there’s always a small number of elite…
DTD: It’s that niche market. We are a very strange market. Do you want to try to find where the smells of food are coming from?
At this point, I should explain. Glenn and I had wandered into the Dining Room on the 5th floor. It was quiet and lovely. It smelled fantastic. The view was spectacular. But right about now we realized that A) there were no other people here, and B) there were no waiters here.
GD: Yeah, I guess maybe downstairs.
DTD: I hate to keep you and not feed you.
GD: No, no, no, I’m good. Obviously, this is not where they are serving.
DTD: But it’s a good hiding place.
GD: Or maybe 2 floors down. That looks very active. Oh, that’s where the buffet is. Oh, OK! So, 2 floors down we go.
DTD: OK, you want to go for that?
GD: I guess. It’s so weird, I didn’t even know there was a thing on 3.
The conversation continued as we walked the stairs down to floor 3. Thank goodness it was a downward walk, or I wouldn’t have been able to talk and pant at the same time.
DTD: Oh, there’s 3, 4 and 5. I picked 5 randomly, and of course I picked wrong. So, I am just fascinated with your video game history. That’s right up my alley. I had friends who were over at Maxis in the 80s.
GD: Yup, I worked there actually. I was at Maxis in ’94 for a year.
DTD: Oh, that’s really fun. I really appreciate the way they did stuff. I mean Will Wright was absolutely unbelievably smart.
DTD: But he kind of made games that played themselves, and you sat and watched. But they still worked.
GD: Yes, he made sandboxes.
DTD: People loved them because there was a lot of interesting things going on, and games were new enough where… Should we do buffet or a la carte?
We have arrived at the 3rd floor dining room lobby, and it is pretty packed. Maybe if we had come earlier, perhaps half an hour ago, it would have been less crowded.
DTD: I’m good with a la carte, and that way we are not getting up and down a whole bunch. If you are good with that? Yeah, the early days of Maxis were really just fascinating. SimCity was popular enough that you could do really weird stuff.
DTD: And SimEarth. I remember everybody bought it and nobody could play it.
Yes, boys and girls, the early 1990s were a special time. We just wanted to simulate everything on our PCs. Simulate it and watch it go.
GD: Yes. When I was there, I launched Sim Ant.
We tried to put our name into the list, which was a jumbled mix of people going to the buffet, and people being seated. It was total chaos. I am such an organized host and interviewer.
DTD: Actually, I think they are going to make us share a table with somebody else.
GD: Oh, that’s right, we shouldn’t so that, because that’s going to be annoying for people.
DTD: Maybe we can try hopping up one for the seated…
GD: Maybe we do the buffet, and then we can bring our stuff upstairs.
DTD: I think they’ll let us.
GD: Because I don’t think they are serving any people up there. Well, we will get to the front and change our vote.
Run in circles! Throw pancakes! I have been spoiled on a cruise ship for too long, for the love of all that is holy, somebody please feed me! I am helpless!
DTD: Let me ask her what’s actually an option.
The hostess settled me down in my moment of panic. No other floors are open. We can be seated at a table. Phew.
DTD: Are you in a rush? Do you have something after this?
GD: I have something at 10, but that’s a while.
DTD: Are you going to the TV show?
GD: I wasn’t, I didn’t even know about it.
GD: Oh, they’re doing an airing.
DTD: They’re airing the first episode that’s done. That’s at 10. I didn’t know if that’s your 10 o’clock commitment.
GD: It wasn’t, but it may be. That sounds fun.
DTD: It’s cool. I’ve seen the pilot episode. I like it, I like what he’s doing. I was lucky enough to go to those screenings. Go to the filmings, actually, back in May. So, you started Eagle, and were with Eagle for quite a while. But then did Eagle turn into Forbidden or was there some in between stuff going on in there.
GD: Yes, there was a big in-between.
DTD: There was. I knew I had missed a little chunk of the story.
GD: So, I sold Eagle in 2006 to Rick [Soued, from FRED distribution], and then I went back to the video game industry. I got a job at PopCap, and I was their North American Sales director. I sold Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies in packaged form to Target, to Walmart, all those guys. Game Stop. So, I managed that for 6+ years, and then EA bought us out, and I took some of the buyout money and rested for a few years and hung out with my kids.
DTD: That sounds like the right thing to do.
GD: And then started Forbidden.
DTD: That’s awesome. And Forbidden, I have to say it’s done really well. Raccoon Tycoon is simple, elegant, lovely. And Railroad [Rivals] is really nice. Waiting on the Kickstarter for the expansion to Railroad.
GD: Yes, almost done. It’s at the factory, now they are on Chinese New Year break. But when they get back, then they start all the final…
And so we are led to our very own table. With waiters this time. And food, presumably.
GD: Yeah, they’ve got, basically it’s mostly produced at the factory, but because we are doing the wood tile version also, again, and the expansion, it’s time consuming. Those wood tiles take quite a long time to produce.
DTD: Thank you [moaning and groaning to sit]
GD: Thank you very much.
DTD: Lovely, lovely. I thought that the upper dining room was a little too empty…
GD: Yeah, too good to be true.
DTD: I looked around, and none of the other restaurants do breakfast. It’s only the dining hall. I thought that was interesting, I thought there would be more call for it.
GD: I think people like to sleep in on the cruise sometimes, so there’s not always everyone at breakfast.
DTD: That’s a good point. Good looking stuff. Do you mind if I take pictures?
GD: No, not at all.
DTD: I gotta wait for a waiter to walk by. Awesome, man. So, have you played games that really excited you at this thing, things you didn’t know about before? Or was everything kind of reminders of things you’ve seen before?
GD: Recently, or ever?
DTD: I’m going to say at the cruise.
GD: I have played zero games at the cruise.
GD: So busy doing stuff. Because it’s been either things I needed to go do, or the excursions, or whatever. So, I have played [Extraordinary Adventures] Pirates like 8 times. But other than that, I haven’t gotten a chance. And I wanted to play a few. I wanted to play the new Rome…
Glenn was kind enough to give Pirates to everyone on the Dice Tower Cruise. And he spent the first few days teaching everyone how to play.
DTD: Foundations of Rome?
GD: Foundations of Rome.
Life now has meaning again. Coffee has arrived via the specter of a kindly waiter.
DTD: Coffee please.
GD: I’m good without it. I’d rather have juice if that’s OK. Could I do orange and tomato? Thank you.
DTD: Pirates looks fantastic, and I’ve been watching a whole bunch of plays of it, but I haven’t been able to get it to the table yet.
GD: Thank you. Yeah, it’s fun. It did not fall into the Galactic Rebellion cesspool of bad art.
I ordered a grapefruit juice. They didn’t have it. I got orange. You know, the good tasting grapefruit juice.
DTD: Well it is beautiful. And that mat is great, you pulled out a really pretty mat.
GD: It turns out that for whatever reason, the colors on the mat pop more than on the printed board.
I think the waiter sensed my failing health and waning verve. He returned almost immediately with coffee, and kindly suggested we order food.
GD: Could I please do the corned beef hash, and could I get my eggs poached? Perfect. Oh, and bacon, please.
This is a good man. Fine vocabulary. And poached eggs, the only sensible way to eat eggs.
DTD: Benedict please. Maybe some sausage on the side. Thank you.
Benedict = poached eggs.
GD: Yeah, disappointingly, I haven’t played anything for fun. I know, it’s terrible.
DTD: It happens more often than not. If you’re here… Like I managed to go to Essen, and I’ve done GAMA a couple of times, and playing for fun is kind of a grey zone. A lot of times someone has what they are… what’s new, what’s out, what’s currently selling, what’s going to sell, and they miss a lot.
GD: It’s true.
DTD: But it’s really a shame that you’re…your business trip involved petting sting rays.
Glenn and Forbidden Games had sponsored a trip in Cozumel to pet sting rays. Rough times.
Also, concerned my meal would not be done by the time I collapsed in a catatonic stupor, the waiter proferred a basket of pastries.
GD: Fantastic, I guess I’ll just grab a muffin.
DTD: Muffin sounds good. Or half a muffin.
The muffin fell apart in my hand as I clumsily pawed for it. Ever polite, the waiter suggested I take the muffin top, it being the best part.
DTD: That is the best part. No, I was saying how many business trips let you pet sting rays?
GD: It’s true.
DTD: I think you paid for the sting rays. Or did you bring them in from Chicago? Great Lake sting rays.
Although the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, MN has sting rays, the actual Great Lakes, sadly, do not. False advertising.
GD: They are not.
Next time, Glenn Drover and I discuss play testing and how to tell if gamers are having fun, the creation of Raccoon Tycoon and Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates, and of course, poached eggs. The most relevant of the eggs.