The morning is winding down, and breakfast is ending. John Coveyou and I are at Biscotti’s in Reno, Nevada, enjoying that languid, meditative state after a good meal, but before you really get up and become productive in the morning. The GAMA trade show is starting to take shape, strange as it was in March 2020, teetering on the brink of disaster. And there’s games to discuss…
JC: Even parasites know better than to kill their host.
DTD: It’s true and the very best, most successful parasites are the ones that don’t make you sick at all. There you go: board game about designing a pathogen. Because you know when these diseases first hit, they tend to have a high mortality and high morbidity, and all this stuff. And all of the pathogens that did that are now gone, and all you’re left with is the weenie guys. I mean, when parvo in dogs first hit in the 1980s, and it had a 2/3 mortality.
Vaccinate your pets, boys and girls.
DTD: You just did not save them. It was horrible. And now, it still happens. But it’s so much lighter, because all of the really aggressive, really virulent virus didn’t make it. Now we just have the ones that made it. Viruses, they are so weird beyond belief, they do anything. Absolute craziness. I was just saying to some other people, that I really haven’t seen any games yet here, that have made me sit up and take notice, that have seemed really exciting. Last night was the show-off night. It was the “Everybody show off your games” night. And I’d heard about 80-90% of them already. I owned half of them already. There were a couple that looked interesting or pretty, but there weren’t really any that were the mind blowing, “I gotta find out about this at the show”. And that’s sad because I’ve been told to write back to Dice Tower about the new stuff. I don’t know what to write about yet.
JC: Yeah. Oh, yeah, that’s tough. I don’t know, are we hitting the plateau in the industry? Is that it?
DTD: I don’t know, this is such a weird year. I think so much has gone on. I think we’re definitely hitting a point where a lot of the… There’s a lot more people trying to break into the industry. A lot of them don’t really know what they’re doing, so there’s a whole bunch of “discount that, don’t even look at that”. And the big players, I think, are trying to be more conservative; they’re not doing more experimental, crazy, weird games. They’re all kind of homogenizing a bit. And they’re trying to reduce their number of releases. Every company has said, “We’re doing less releases this year.” Whether they do it or not, they’ve all said it. Because we have too many savvy consumers that can see the chaff; they know what they’re looking for. So, do you ever play games anymore? Or has designing kind of ruined it for you?
JC: It hasn’t ruin it for me. I play, but I’m very picky. So, I only play when… I mean, I also have a young family. Two kids, we have a third one on the way.
DTD: Wow. Well, congratulations.
JC: Yeah, thanks.
DTD: That certainly will give you a lot more time for both the designing and the playing. It’s a good strategy.
JC: We have a long-term game plan.
DTD: It’s the long con.
JC: We know we want to play more games in 20 years. So, we need to make the players.
DTD: That is a really good idea. I had that. I had that. And, um, they move out.
JC: Oh, I didn’t think about that.
DTD: I know, it does occur. The good news is, though, that the millennial generation, and I’m thinking generations to come, do tend to move back in.
JC: Is that good news, or is that…?
DTD: Oh! Well, more game playing. Come on. My son is 23, and he will play anything, and loves games. And my daughter’s 25, and she loves the very thematic experiential games. So, we can get some good games played. So, do you play your own games?
JC: I actually do. I really like my own games. I think I took a hiatus for a while, because I kind of got sick of my own stuff. I don’t want a… I don’t normally enjoy playing my own games right after they’ve released, just because I’m already still so close to it.
DTD: Well, and you’ve played it thousands of times.
JC: I’ve played it so many times. But I mean, the reality is I don’t want to publish a game unless I actually enjoy playing it.
DTD: That’s good to hear.
JC: And with all the games… like Nerd Words, that’s one of the games that I really enjoy playing. But it’s just so, it’s right up my nerdy alley, right? I mean, science vocabulary, are you kidding?
DTD: Oh, I love it. It’s learning a new puzzley language, and kind of learning Latin, and kind of learning Greek.
JC: And the way the clues work in that game. I just think it’s so clever and fun. I love Subatomic. I mean, it’s a very enjoyable game for me to play. I just like deck building. I like the engine building that comes out of building up your deck and culling cards out. That’s just really fun to me.
DTD: That’s really cool, because I definitely have spoken to designers who were like, “I have played it so many times. I’m good.”
JC: Yeah, it’s more… I think the trouble is, at conventions having to demo your game like 50, 60, 70 times and not actually get to play it. That’s when you’re, I get like… At that point, I almost get hungry to play one of my games. Because I am like, “I have taught this game to all of you people. I want to play.”
DTD: Man, this sounds good. I should play this one!
It’s true. The more I describe a game to someone, the more I want to play it.
JC: I know. I really want to play this dang game now, because I’ve been teaching you, and watching you guys have fun.
DTD: I don’t know if you get it, but when I’m in a situation like that, I kind of thrive on the patter. You know there’s just a satisfaction and a joy for me if I’ve got that patter down. Like, games I’ve taught a lot at home. I like teaching them. Like, I know how to teach this. I know what you’re going to enjoy, I know what you’re going to be confused by. And I’m just jazzed to teach it. So, when you’re doing the design, I always wonder with any artistic process, I think one of the really hard things is trying to decide when you’re done. I mean, do you have trouble just letting it go? Just saying, “Well, OK, that’s it. Now it’s done.”
JC: I don’t. I think my team does more than I do. I think, because I get to a point where I just kind of get sick of it. And I am like, “I just want this to be done.” And I either hand it off to a developer, or allow my team to beat on it a little bit.
DTD: Take a break, let it evolve a little, come back to me. Let’s see what changed. I love that. I hate that.
JC: Now I want to go work on a new game. The detailed development process is something that I’m really good at and enjoy doing, but only with other people’s games. When it’s my game, I like to get the game up to a nice playable level, semi-developed. And then let someone else take it. Because I feel like you just get bogged down, and you get a very narrow vision about it.
DTD: Well, you totally do. If you make a game, you love your game, and the hardest thing to do is what you have to do, which is to cut bits of it out that you love. You know, it may be a million times better if you cut out this one little mechanic, but the game started with that mechanic. I love it, the mechanic is the game. You need someone independent to say, “Dude, that part’s not good. That doesn’t work with this.”
JC: Or to think of solutions that you would never think of, because we’re just so close.
DTD: Yeah, I love prototyping. I love riffing back and forth, and saying, “Well, that’s really cool. But what if you…?” So, what are your favorite kind of games? Like, if you’re just going to… you’ve got a group of people over, and they say, “So what do you do for a living?” “I work in board games.” What are you going to pull out?
JC: Well, um, let’s see. It depends on whether they’re gamers are not yet. If they’re not gamers, I would pull out probably For Sale.
DTD: That is a good one. A classic.
JC: Or Codenames.
DTD: Which you could do with any group.
JC: If they’ve played a couple games, they want something a bit heavier. Maybe Stone Age. I love Stone age.
DTD: Really? I like the math in Stone Age. I like the whole thing about the dice rolls. The other one; have you played Castle for all Seasons? It is an early Inka and Markus Brand game. And they’re my favorite designers, but it has a resource collection and use mechanism that is a little mathy and cool. So you collect resources, which are worth different values. Sand is worth 1, wood 2, clay 4, etc. and when you spend them to buy something, you need to spend an exact value, like 13, using exactly 3 resources. So, you not only need the amount, but you have to figure out how am I going to split these up? And how am I going to add them together? And it’s fast. It’s kind of mean, but it’s an early design. There’s a love-hate thing with early designs, and I’ve seen this with books, I’ve seen it with movies, I’ve seen it with board games. That a creator’s first design is kind of off the rails. You know, there’s no rules, they’re going crazy. They’re giddy with power. And you get books that make no sense, and plots that are insane, and you get games that do weird stuff. Which can be horrible, and can be just fascinating. So, this is a really early Brand game; you know that Brands? They did Village. Now they’re in the Exit games, and things like that. They’ve they’ve done a lot of really cool games, with odd mechanisms. Murano. Glass blowing game with the boats that go around the outside. Stone Age gets a lot of love, for as old as it is.
JC: I think it’s such a good game, I think it’s so tight. The dice rolling, a lot of people don’t like it. It’s a kind of thing I would criticize if I saw it in some of my classes. If some student tried to say, “Oh, you know, you roll dice, and the total number you divide by, and you get those resources.”
DTD: Nobody wants to divide!
JC: I’d go, “Oh, yeah… I don’t know…” But it just works so well.
DTD: It is full of really cool ideas. And it was one of the… I know it wasn’t the first, but it was one of the very early resource collection, worker placement things. It is a cool game, and it had that weird expansion that nobody really knew what to do with, the jewelry.
JC: Oh, yeah, I never played that.
DTD: It’s very divisive, you know? People love it. People hate it. It was really hard to find for a while. Seems like it’s one of the games that’s kind of due to have a big, pretty deluxe something.
JC: Yeah, they just did a winter version. And a 100 year anniversary, it couldn’t be a 100 year.
Stone Age 10th Anniversay came out in 2018. Nearly 100.
DTD: But they all kind of looked the same, you know? I think this is kind of the age of the pretty version. People eat that up.
JC: Oh, yeah, they definitely do.
DTD: And I am amazed at how far, just production abilities have gone. Every time I think, “You know, this is incredible”, they come up with another weird thing. You know, aside from cutting meeples into the most bizarre shapes in the world for no cost and doing plastic and pre-painted plastic. But double layer boards and triple layer boards – That just showed up in the past, what, year-ish? And it works, and it’s great, and it’s satisfying. It’s just brilliant. I don’t know if you’ve gotten a chance to play it, but Aquatica is the new one from Cosmodrome.
Good news! Arcane Wonders has recently announced that they will be reprinting and distributing Aquatica as part of the Dice Tower Essentials line, so this gem will be available in the fall. Unless I buy them all.
JC: So, I saw it at Essen! I have not played it.
DTD: It’s really hard to get a hold of, because Cosmodrome is kind of notorious for bad distribution. They were the Smartphone Inc people, but Aquatica has got an interesting three layer board, that you can take cards, and you slip them into a slot, and it reveals next action you get. And when you burn the action, you just chunk it in one more slot. And then when you’re done, it delivers to a finished space, and the board really works with the ergonomics and the physicality of how everything goes. It’s got simple ideas, and it really just works well. I would buy it in a heartbeat if I could find it anywhere. And it’s bad, I was at Essen and I didn’t buy it. That’s the one I’m kicking myself for. But there were a million at Essen I did buy, and absolutely have been thrilled with. Masters of the Renaissance, the Lorenzo Il Magnifico card game.
JC: I saw that.
DTD: Ridiculously good. I don’t think it will sell, because the name is a paragraph long. And it is kind of themeless, too. And it doesn’t look like something you’d want to get excited about. Was there anything else you wanted to touch on?
JC: I think the only other thing is Artana, the company we acquired last year.
DTD: Yes! Oh man, I can’t believe I didn’t talk about it, because business-wise, you guys have just done incredible. You’ve got Tesla vs Edison. And that is such a good acquire, both for brand and the quality of the game. I don’t get excited about business press releases, but I remember you handed me that one. And I read it, and I’m like, “This is perfect! This is on brand and great!”
JC: That is awesome.
DTD: What is that side doing?
JC: So, we released, or launched I should say, On the Origin of Species.
DTD: Oh, the art on that is so nice. I love that classic Darwin Beagle, hand drawn art. It’s so iconic at this point.
The HMS Beagle was the ship Darwin sailed on from 1831-1836 when he visited the Galapagos Islands.
JC: Yeah, it’s a beautiful game. It’s a very simple game, that was designed by two mathematicians, and we found it just before Essen, because Man vs. Meeple did a play through of it, because it was on their top 100 games of Essen. I think it was their number 16. And I saw it, and I said, “This is, this would fit perfect in the Artana line.” So, I contacted the publisher and got the license for it before Essen. That way when Essen hit, because I knew they were going to do very well at Essen. And everyone said, “I want to get copies in the US. I want the English license! I want English license!” And all the distributors, and Barnes and Noble and PSI, and everyone saying “We want to bring this in the US!” I’m like, “Yep. Go talk to Artana.”
DTD: I hear Artana has some… Doesn’t benefit me at all, but you know those guys… Yeah, it was gorgeous. I was very excited about that.
JC: And then we launched on Kickstarter, so that we could launch it in the English-only version. And we raised $120,000 which is not, you know, huge in nowadays Kickstarter terms, but we launched it like, three weeks after we licensed game. We found it at Essen, and then boom put it on Kickstarter. And there was no marketing, No pre-buzz. We just put it up there. And it did well. We’ve got a game designed by Matthew O’Malley and Ben Rosset. Called First in Flight, and it’s about the Wright Brothers and all of the innovators during that time, who were trying to build the first plane.
Origin of Species raised $115,545 from 3,534 backers on December 5, 2019. This is 11.5 times the cost to originally build the HMS Beagle (£7,803), nearly 48 times the people involved (the Beagle set sail with 74 people), and 68,645 days later (the Beagle set sail on December 27, 1831).
DTD: Oh, there was a ridiculous race for it. There were lot of people trying.
JC: The game is unbelievable. It is so fun. It’s probably one of the best prototypes I’ve ever played. It is so good. I just like, I can’t believe how well they just nailed it.
DTD: All right, does the first player marker glide?
JC: It doesn’t. But we will now add that in.
I have it in writing. If this happens, you can all thank me first.
DTD: I will pay extra for a first player marker that I can just casually throw across the room.
JC: Yeah, that’s not a bad idea. That’s not a bad idea at all.
DTD: I love it. I still remember having a wood model of that plane, and it glided, kind of. I broke it. That is really cool. That is a neat idea of doing that race. I dig it.
JC: And we are working with Scott Almes as well. On a few different…
DTD: He’s everywhere. So prolific.
JC: Yeah, he’s got a lot of good stuff out there. He did Lovelace and Babbage for Artana. And that game did really well, but we’re working on a series of games. He’s an engineer as well, and I don’t know if I can, I mean I can tell you more details about it. It’s not public yet, but basically, we want to do a series of games about different plants, power plants. So that someone can see how a coal fired power plant actually works, and issues with that.
DTD: Are you going to go into, like, Thorium? That is so cool. It generates its own fuel, man.
Thorium nuclear power plant. It’s the future. Trust me.
JC: Possibly. Yeah, so I’m pretty sure he’s a nuclear engineer. Awesome. So, we want to do one on a traditional power plant, and then a nuclear power plant, and then also a treatment plant. Or actually, I think we’re going to launch three of them at a time. And we’re going to do one type of power plant, one type of treatment plant, and then one type of processing plant. So, like, making a car, or making you know, algae, cellulose, biofuel. So, we’re going to do three that were very similar game mechanisms, but very distinct types of focus on the industry, or the type of thing they’re making.
DTD: It’s cool. You have to have methane plants, poop plants.
JC: And this is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
DTD: Well, this goes into your treatment experience that you have with wastewater and things like that.
JC: That’s right.
DTD: I was so excited about the Babbage thing, and I mean, that just begs for an engine builder [pun intended], is having Babbage themed games. That original Babbage machine was the most ridiculous, over produced creation. I mean, Babbage never built one, because you couldn’t. It was only recently that some University built one.
In the early 1820s Charles Babbage designed the Difference Engine, considered by many to be the first computer. Run by gears, this enormous engineering nightmare was never actually constructed in Babbage’s lifetime. Two working Difference Engines were entually made in the 1980s, which are on rotating display at museums.
DTD: Yeah. Oh, yeah. A Babbage machine was built and was run. But there’s so many gears in there, that the friction alone can just break it. It’s theoretically brilliant, and practically horrible.
JC: Like a lot of things in life.
DTD: I guess that’s most of my life. You know, I am theoretically brilliant, in practicality, I walk into walls, and functionally it just doesn’t work right. So, are you looking to be, like, an acquisition growth company or the Artana thing just kind of fall in place, right time?
JC: Well, yes, I would say we are looking to be an acquisition growth company.
DTD: You hinted at that with restructuring, and figuring out where we’re going, and I need more time with business. That just kind of screams, “We are looking to do more of this.”
JC: Yeah, Yeah. We definitely want to grow. I want to be very careful, though, because, you know, our bread and butter, like you were harping on at the very beginning… Our bread and butter, are these hard science games. And that’s what people really know us for. And these other lines are good, as long as they support what we’re doing at Genius Games and don’t distract us. And I think the Artana brand does a good job of supporting what we’re doing, and they already had good quality games and a good brand.
DTD: Well you are hitting a side of it that nobody else really is doing. And you’re being successful. You’re doing it well. I mean, there’s Academy Games, and they do okay, but they’re more historical.
Hey Uwe! Call me!
JC: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DTD: So, you know, that’s the closest I can even think of, aside from bad museum gift shop card games about pollen. I remember as a kid just the utter disappointment that there were games in that store wherever I was. But I knew they were horrible. Even as a kid, I just knew there was no reason, at all.
JC: Yeah, that’s unfortunate, but people make money on it. And that’s the sad thing.
DTD: It’s terrible. I would have bought your games as a kid.
Our delightful waiter took this opportunity to infuse our very souls with more Coffea arabica.
DTD: As you could tell, I’m a fan.
JC: I appreciate that.
DTD: No worries at all. I keep my eyes out. I’m always looking forward to what you’re doing next. It’s very cool.
JC: Well, well, thanks. Thanks for doing the interview.
DTD: No, thanks for tolerating the interrogation.
I cannot thank John enough for a delightful breakfast at the very brink of apocalypse. We could see the world changing, but just didn’t know how far we would fall. These meals at GAMA were probably the last real restaurant meals I have had as of this writing, and I was lucky enough to spend them with such good people.