Welcome to the final stretch of my breakfast with designer and Genius Games founder John Coveyou. This interview has a bit of an odd tone, as the two of us casually talk about this new strange worry in the world, Coronavirus. Rememberm, this breakfast occurred on March 10, right at the beginning of our new normal. GAMA was perhaps the first convention to start worrying about social gatherings, and many companies ended up not attending. Other pre-apocalyptic banter includes quantum physics and classic British epidemiology.

DTD: I remember your booth when Periodic was new; I was impressed. It was a big booth, there was a lot going on. You had Nerd Words.

JC: Nerd Words just released. Um, yeah, that released a month ago. I got a copy here. That game is so fun, when you’re with a group. It just hasn’t gotten the traction. I’m having word games, Social games are really tough sells. But this one, we’ll see, I think it will really take off. Anyway, they… we have lost a lot of employees over the last six months or so, and that put a company in a really tough spot. So, my mission over the last few months has been to kind of put designing games aside, and have just been reorganizing the company and getting things, writing process to make sure things don’t get left behind again.

DTD: Tighten things up.

JC: Tighten things up.

DTD: Because a lot of the stuff is in motion. Genotype is in motion. So, that’s cool. I get the same feeling from Genotype that I got from first playing with Cytosis.

JC: Oh, awesome.

DTD: It’s got that true board game, because, like, nerd words is fun, and Subatomic is fun, but they’ve got the feel of a smaller game, a card game, of a more entry level. But Genotype, it’s not a heavy game by any means, but I got the same joy I got from Cytosis. That it was a game, and it touched all the things that I knew, and all the things that I loved. I’m always watching, I’m always excited to see where you’re going to branch out into next, because you know, is it more biology? Is it a physical science? You know?

JC: We’re always excited to figure that out, too!

DTD: Where’s your quantum game?

JC: Yeah. That would be awesome.

DTD: The problem is that every rule would be wrong.

JC: That is a problem. You can’t have a game like that.

DTD: I don’t know if you’ve seen it. There actually is one quantum entanglement game.

JC: I haven’t seen that. I know there’s a Antimatter Matters.

DTD: Yes, and that’s cool. But IBM internally made a board game to introduce their people to quantum computing and quantum entanglement. And it is a two player coop. “Entanglion”. That’s the name of the game, is Entanglion. And it’s, totally honest, it’s not a great game, but it’s a fascinating game. It’s interesting. So, it’s a little hard to come across.

JC: It could be a great game.

DTD: But … I love that it’s there. The ideas. I think that quantum entanglement, quantum physics, even going into quantum teleportation and computing, you could make a simple game out of that. And not everybody will do it, but every once in a while, someone will have that, you know, boom lightbulb moment. [see logo]. Where they’ll go, “Oh, my God I get it. This is quantum. This is the weirdness.”

JC: Yeah. That’s fascinating. Quantum mechanics are mind blowing.

DTD: I think that’s probably the Holy Grail. That’s going to be the hardest game to actually figure out. It’s a hard thing even to think about.

JC: Yeah, we thought about way making a game when, what was it the Higgs Boson? We thought about making a game about that.

DTD: Is it bad that I followed that like a Fanboy?

JC: No. Of course not. As one should.

DTD: I love the whole concept of Higgs. It’s a simple concept, that basically Higgs bosons are everywhere, there’s a sea of them. And anytime you move, anytime atoms travel, the resistance is Higgs bosons. And that translates to Mass. That’s why things are hard to move. That’s why there is inertia. Is Higgs is the background. I love that idea, but yeah, a cloud computing, generate lots of energy, particle accelerator game, trying to find the target. It’s a deduction game, it’s Clue. It’s, you know, hidden deduction.

Higgs has quite literally been called the God Particle.

JC: Oh, yeah, I would love a game about CERN and atom smashers, and particle research like that. I don’t have the expertise to be able to design it myself. That’s part of the reason why we’ve never picked on those.

DTD: That’s kind of awesome. Well, the whole idea of just using the standard model, using subatomic physics. I mean, you’ve touched it with the quarks, which is brilliant. I love it. It’s, put the quarks together in the right ways and, you know, putting iconography on strange. I dig it. Strange didn’t exist for a really long time. They all theorized it was there, but it was the most recent one.

JC: Yeah, Yeah, boy that’s mind blowing.

The six quarks in the standard model are named Up, Down, Top, Bottom, Charm and Strange. Early theorists were romantics: the first names for the top and bottom quarks were actually beauty and truth. Strange quarks were so named because they were part of “strange” long-lived particles. It was probably Murray Gell-Mann who coined the term, and he worked with Richard Feynman. BTW, Gell-Mann came up with the word quark, which he took from James Joyce‘s Finnegan’s Wake: “Three quarks for Muster Mark!”

DTD: It might have been Feynman who coined it because his stuff is just, oh he’s fun to listen to.

JC: Yeah, I read his book, Surely you’re Joking. So good.

DTD: He was the weirdest dude. You know the story about, he has the patent on nuclear submarines.

JC: Really?

DTD: Yeah, or had. Yeah, but he was designing the idea of a nuclear power station, how do you do it? And basically, you let a nuclear reaction happen and you have a bunch of water around and you have to constantly cool it. And he flippantly said, “You know, this would work best if you just put the whole power station in the water. Because if you’re in the ocean, you’ve got a constant cooling source. The problem is that you would have to be constantly shooting hot water out the back, which would be great if you’re submarine.” And then the government stepped in and said… My favorite Feynmann, Project Manhattan, story is they had unlimited bounds. When they were working on the bomb, they could ask for anything. They were above the law. And so, they’re playing around with casings and critical mass. And one of the best things that you can shield with is gold. So, they at one point said, “We need 20 pounds of gold.” And the government was like, “Done.” And they got a chunk, a sphere of gold like this big [big gesture]. So, I love that whole idea of just these nerdy scientists sitting around and not going, “I want to get rich and I’m going to take over the world.” No, it’s like “You know what would be really practical? 20 pounds of gold.” [laughs]

JC: That’s great. Just to hold that would be amazing.

DTD: I love those stories. Oh, yeah. I had a friend whose dad was in, didn’t hold it, but saw it. But that was the Wild West, man. That was the Wild West of science. It worked, for good or bad, mostly bad. It worked. So, what are you finding, have you found anything interesting at GAMA yet? Have you been here long enough to see things that are really, like piquing your interest?

JC: Not as much, yet.

DTD: I know it’s still early in the show.

JC: Yeah. Um I mean, some of my main goals here are to demo stuff for new retailers. We’ve got a couple of new games. We’ve got a really small, light card game, based upon addition and subtraction [Math Rush]. You might think, “OK, addition. subtraction. This is too easy.” But it’s a real time, cooperative game, where you are having to sequence the sums and differences of all these different cards, with the other people in your group, under the pressure of time.

DTD: So, is it like these magazine puzzles where you have a list of numbers and you’ve got to in the right signs, to try to reach a target?

JC: No. So, you basically have a card. A card might just say something like five plus seven, or seven minus five, or nine plus three, or something like that. And each player is going to have, say, four or five cards in their hand. And the timer starts, and you have three minutes. And then the goals in the center of the table tell you the total quantity of cards you have to have to complete that goal, and whether they have to increase or decrease. And so, I might go, I might do my math, and go… I’m looking at my cards and I’ll go, “OK, I have a total of a five, and I have a seven, and I have a three, and I have a four.” And someone else is like, “OK, well, I have a one. Does anyone else have lower than a 1. Does anyone else have a zero?” like “No, no, no.” “OK, so, play your one.” So, they play the one, and like, “OK, I’m going to play my 3.”

DTD: OK, you’ve got to play in order.

JC: You’ve got to order them, increasing and decreasing, and some of the cards, some of the goals say you could only use evens, or you can only use odds, or you can only use addition, or you can only use subtraction, or they all have to be higher than 11. And so, it’s like, you’re all trying to do this in real time. It’s funny, because addition and subtraction is so easy, but it just melts your brain.

DTD: But a lot of people do it for fun.

JC: Oh yeah, absolutely.

DTD: Yeah, I just I just I want to review it, and just say, “Too mathy.” [much laughing] No, that’s fascinating. And I just was having a discussion yesterday about… with a friend who home schools his kids and the target there is: find something the kids really enjoy, and use that as the teaching method. So that is the perfect way.

I am not sure if John has finally allowed it, or if he is too distracted, but the waiter removes the last of the plates.

DTD: Oh, that’s awesome. But the tough thing, of course, with this GAMA is, I think, I don’t know where it is on the retailer side, but a lot of the big names are not showing. People are dropping off like flies. They’re panicking. So, there’s almost no distributors here, which has got to be a frustration for the retailers. And a lot of the companies, even last minute. I’m waiting to see, is someone going to drop out today? You know, yesterday were some very big names.

JC: Who dropped out yesterday?

Remember, this was the very beginning of the Corona pandemic. It is March 10, 2020. We didn’t really know what was going on, but several large companies decided at the last minute not to travel to GAMA. The number of cancellations should have forwarned us how serious this was getting.

DTD: IDW, Pandasaurus. Yeah, so Renegade was the day before. GTS, Alliance and PSI all dropped.

JC: ACD is still here.

DTD: Yeah, they’re probably happy about that. But we’ve got a really crazy Wild West thing going on at GAMA now, that groups are dropping. They had a lot of space. They don’t want to waste that space. So, everybody’s trading workers. So you’re getting, you know “Oh, I’ve got a worker here that I sent, but the company didn’t show up, so we can give them to you, to man that booth, and you give us this.” The exhibit hall is going to be odd.

JC: Yeah. Yeah, it’s definitely going to be odd. Well, hopefully a lot of the retailers are still showing up. I think that tragedy for us is if only half the retailers showed up. That would be bad.

DTD: I mean, it feels crowded. GAMA is saying 10%. GAMA is saying they had about a 10% drop. See, where’s your epidemiology game?

This interview is turning into a prophetic black comedy. All in all, GAMA reported 30 corporate cancellations by the end of the show, and attendance was down nearly 20%.

JC: I know. And you know, I started a Ph.D. in environmental public health and studied quite a bit of epidemiology, and I dropped out. I dropped out of that program to run the company, but I would love to have a game like that. I mean, Pandemic kind of does a little bit of that.

DTD: I was just thinking that, yeah.

JC: But it doesn’t follow the specific, what is that..? The equation for the spreading of the disease to a population…

DTD: The geometric expansion. but there’s a specific equation. You’re making me think back to things I didn’t use from vet school. Epidemiology, that was one of the less exciting classes.

JC: Yeah, I loved the content, but my professor was, they could have been better.

DTD: They could be mathy and dry. I remember really being fascinated with epidemiology about the detective side of it. Okay, there’s a bunch of cases – what do they have in common? What is the common source? How can I use that?

JC: Now see, there’s a game. There’s a game. You’re John Snow and the cholera outbreak, somewhere in England?

This is some pretty good trivia knowledge. London was suffering a cholera epidemic in 1854, a devestating disease with unknown causes at the time. John Snow used epidemiology to show that the disease clustered around the Broad Street water pump in Soho. He had the handle to that particular pump removed, and disease cases subsided.

DTD: Yeah, to one well.

JC: To one well.

DTD: And I think, wasn’t that Lister? It was a very famous English name that came up. Did the, I’m terrible, it was Pasteur or Lister, one of those did the actual study and found one well. And as soon as he closed that well, the cases got tons better.

Nope. John nailed it. It was Dr. John Snow (1813-1858). Joseph Lister (1827-1912) introduced clean antiseptic surgery. Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) connected germs to disease.

JC: Now that’s a game. That’s a fascinating game. I wish I had the time to do it.

DTD: You start with the Clue model, you know, here’s all the sources. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, hidden. This is the one. Where are you going to test? How do you go… I mean, you could do it with an app really easy. But how would you, with a board game, not an app, take the hidden card and make it generate disease?

DTD: I don’t know if you’ve seen it. There’s an absolutely fascinating solo, hidden, not hidden traitor, but hidden movement game. Where it’s Jack the Ripper time, it’s England, and you are tracing the movements of your target. So, you’re moving around the board, looking for this hidden target. But it’s a solo game, and the deck is the AI for the movement of the target. And it works so well. It’s Black Sonata.

JC: I like that idea.

DTD: They actually just did a Kickstarter for an expansion for it, but it involves cards of a certain type. The order is kind of random, but the testing cards have punch holes, and you put a testing card over the part you’re going to test. And what you see through the punch hole gives you the information. So, the AI is baked in.

JC: Oh, I like that. I like that a lot.

DTD: I’m wondering if something like that can make an unknown hidden card generate action on a board? Because that’s what you want. You know the target is, that nursing home, that well, that restaurant. And it’s hidden in a card, and you’re trying to figure it out. But you’ve got to make that generate. And you have to have a time delay. So, you’ve got a situation where lots of things, I’m thinking in computer games, but you’ve got a situation where lots of populace moves all over the place and does their business. And three days after they hit there, they blow up.

JC: It’s interesting.

DTD: See, you need Coronavirus: the game.

Too soon, too soon.

JC: Yeah, I thought about that. People have asked me.

DTD: That’s terrible, that’s terrible.

JC: I can’t make a profit off of that.

DTD: No, no, no.

JC: But there’s a coloring book. There’s a Corona virus coloring book from a coloring book dot com company, or whatever that is.

DTD: That’s nuts, and I’m blown away that, like Corona Beer is failing, is in danger of folding.

JC: Really? Because of this?

DTD: Yes.

JC: What? What? How?

DTD: Well, let me ask you another question. How often do you buy the dietary vitamin supplement called Ayds? It was in an early 1980s product. A.Y.D.S.

Interestingly, the original drug in AYDS was benzocaine, and the theory was its numbing effect would reduce the taste of food. This was later replaced with phenylpropanolamine (PPA), a popular appetite suppresant. AYDS stopped production in 1988.

JC: Wow. No, never. That is so interesting.

DTD: They were chewy, chocolate flavored little squares that were, agreed a kind of snake oil, but they were diet supplements, dietary aids.

They also came in peanut butter.

JC: Agreed snake oil, but everyone still took them.

DTD: I am very skeptical. I’ve had too many classes and too much school to believe almost anything I see anymore. It’s really, it’s not done me well.

JC: I hear you. It causes you to be a skeptic in a lot of things, that’s for sure.

DTD: We used to joke that in veterinary school you start taking a lot of food science, and epidemiology, and you learn about pathogens and things, and parasitology. And if you take enough of that class, you either never eat anything again, or you just don’t care and you eat anything. And you lick lamp poles. You just don’t care anymore. You go one of those two ways.

JC: Okay? I read Omnivore’s Dilemma, and the first thing I wanted to do was go eat at McDonald’s, because they kept talking about McDonald’s. And it was like those fries, those fries. And they are like, the whole point of the book is to tell you to not eat at McDonald’s. It wasn’t the whole point of the book, but that was a major thing.

DTD: I know, there were a bunch of those. The evil of this, and the evil of that. I don’t know. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Nothing is that black and white. And you’ve got to remember that big corporations don’t make money if their products kill people. Why would they do that? Business sense – That’s not a good idea.

Come back next time for the end of breakfast, and dont worry – John and I spend more time talking about games. John discusses Genius Games’ recent acquisition of Artana Games, he reveals some upcoming projects, and we generally prattle on about what games we like to play.

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