Harken back to simpler time, when Coronavirus was just transitioning from “something in another country” to “I might want to stay at home.” It is March 12, 2020, the last day of the GAMA Expo in Reno Nevada. I had just accosted Colby Dauch, the founder of Plaid Hat Games, and he was kind enough to join me for a nice dinner at Bimini Steakhouse.
DTD: You having a good show so far?
CD: Yeah, not bad. Like, just hanging out at the Asmodee booth.
DTD: Is that weird?
On February 28, Colby Dauch announced that he had re-acquired Plaid Hat Games from Asmodee. Plaid Hat was originally aquired by F2Z Entertainment in 2015, which was then itself purchased by Asmodee in 2016. This interview occured only 2 weeks after Colby’s announcement.
CD: It’s not been weird, no.
CD: It just kind of happened last… But the deal’s been going for a couple of months.
DTD: I figure the news release is going to come… not right away.
CD: And so, like, that’s not public information, so I can’t contact GAMA and get my own booth, and so it’s just like… I have a little table at their booth. It’s not a big deal, because people don’t know, like “Oh, Plaid Hat’s here. I don’t want to talk to them.”
DTD: But things are amiable?
CD: So, it’s real boring during show hours. Because I’m just hanging out.
DTD: Oh, I’m sorry. Because it’s definitely been all over, because I do Dice Tower News as well. So, it’s been all over the news, and I didn’t know, you know, “Ummm… should I talk about this a lot? should I not talk about this a lot?”
CD: Yeah, we can talk about it. I mean, there’s certain things I can’t discuss, because I was an employee of theirs. And then I entered a contract with them. So, of course there is non-disclosure type stuff.
DTD: No, I totally get it.
CD: So, you can ask any question. I will let you know if I can answer it.
DTD: I can ask anything? What is the name of your first pet, and your Social?
CD: [laughs] I cannot answer that.
Fluffy, and 7.
DTD: That was a very practiced… that was good. And I’ll just edit that little sound clip, and in like every other thing I’ll be, “I can’t answer that.” That’s very cool. So, I ate here on Tuesday and the food was incredible. It was so good. Get whatever you want; it’s on me.
CD: Thank you.
DTD: Oh, no worries at all. It’s kind of the deal. If I’m allowed to grill you and interrogate you, then you know at least you get a free meal out of it. And it’s funny, I’ve done quite a few designers now, and sometimes we go to like these little hole-in-the-wall places. And sometimes we go to nice places. I like food.
CD: Yeah, I bet. I bet Rob [Daviau] really got you out to the nicest of places.
DTD: He did. We went to like this really fancy, starred, five-course gourmet restaurant. It was it was fun. He was a trip.
Rob and I went to All Spice in San Mateo, CA. Unbelievalbe food. Read all about it here.
CD: Rob is foodie guy for sure.
DTD: Absolutely. We had a good old time.
Our wait team of Nena and Robert introduced themselves, and immediately I felt I was in good hands. Ever the host, I splurged for tap water all around.
Waiter: First time at steakhouse?
DTD: I’ve been here once before.
CD: And I am a virgin.
Waiter: Cocktails, wine, anything to get you started tonight?
DTD: I wouldn’t mind a glass of Pinot. The La Crema was really good last time.
I sound very knowledgeable, but I had literally eaten at this restaurant, and ordered this wine, one day prior. If another day or two had passed, I would be ordering randomly.
CD: I’ll just match him.
At this point, the wait staff hirriedly replaced our pedestrian Cabernet glasses with more appropriate Pinot Noir glasses. Colby was impressed; I pretended this was fully expected.
DTD: This cracked me up. I wouldn’t know the difference. I wouldn’t drink Pinot out of that. Like a peasant!
Like we had never drunk wine out of a dice cup before.
CD: What are we, barbarians?
I was lucky in that the menu and chef’s specials had changed since last night, so I had a whole new cornucopia of selections. The fresh fish went from Halibut to Chilean Sea Bass, and both were still available. American Wagyu, the gold standard of beefy opulence, was now offered as well.
CD: What did you have last time you were here?
DTD: I had a prime rib last time, it was really very good. I’m always tempted by the wagyu.
CD: Yeah, that looks a little too fancy for my taste. I’m not prepared to pay $196 for 8 ounces of beef.
DTD: I will happily buy you that piece of beef if you would like.
CD: [laughing hysterically] I would feel so ashamed of myself. I can get the regular filet mignon.
DTD: You shouldn’t. I’ve had it in Tokyo, it’s really good. No, no, I am eccentric and retired, so… Come on, the world’s coming to an end. We need to celebrate.
Wagyu Beef as a breed is prized for its fat marbling, and is generally considered the very best of steaks. In Japan, the cows are treated as royalty, fed beer and massaged regularly to keep the meat in prime condition, resulting in true Kobe Beef. I have never eaten its like since Tokyo.
CD: That’s why the world is coming to an end – our opulence.
DTD: It’s absolutely true. And I the worst offender. There’s no doubt in my mind. Yeah, everything is insane today. It’s like being in a movie or something.
CD: So, what did you do before… I mean, tell me about yourself.
DTD: Oh, my goodness. The short story is, I was A Ph.D. in Neuroscience, Cell Biologist, who decided that I hated research. So, I became a veterinarian and owned a veterinary practice for about 20 years.
Go Handsome Dan.
The bulldog mascot of Yale University, there have been 28 bulldog mascots since 1889, each named Handsome Dan.
CD: Damn. That must have tough to pay back the Neuroscience degree on a veterinarian salary.
DTD: A little bit, but I’m also spoiled rotten, because my father was one of those people who invented the internet.
CD: Trust fund baby?
DTD: Yeah, yeah. I am ashamed of it, but it’s true. My father created UNIX in 1969, and the C programming language. And he’s a Google guy.
My dad is sitting.
CD: And you’re interviewing me? It feels like you’re the more interesting person at the table.
DTD: It’s really not true. And I do this for fun. I really like board games. I’ve been in the industry for a while. I volunteer with Dice Tower doing the written stuff. And I’ve been following games for a long old time. I’ve been following Plaid Hat forever. I think the first… So, you play board games, and I played like Avalon Hill stuff, and little clamshell TSR games and things from the 70’s. But my… There’s always that first moment where you hear about a board game that you really want, and you go out and find it and seek it out. The first one was Dungeon Run.
DTD: That was like my first, “I have got to have this game, and seek it hard.”
I first purchased Dungeon Run from the secondary market on October 5, 2013 after seeing a video about it. It had originally come out in December 2011.
CD: There’s only ever been 5000 Dungeon Runs in existence. We did one print run.
DTD: I have two.
Two copies, not two print runs…
CD: And you own two of them. I don’t own one of them anymore. I don’t know what happened to it.
DTD: I will sell you one on the secondary market. It’ll be real cheap.
CD: I probably broke it into parts because somebody was missing something, and I felt bad and wanted to send them a replacement, rather than tell them I didn’t have any.
DTD: Yeah, it was like at the time, it was our second ever game. And Summoner Wars was turning over so fast, that it was like… 5000 copies in a year, that seemed really slow to me.
CD: Ever since then, Plaid Hat was my go-to studio. Like this is early, early, early. And that’s who I watched. I watched Plaid Hat to see what was going on, and what was coming out, and that was my kind of measuring point for what cool trends were happening.
Our wonderful helper Nema returns with 4 types of bread, including honey wheat, and a seasonal pumpkin cranberry walnut, which was incredible. The nice butter and Mediterranean sea salt certainly didn’t hurt.
DTD: So, oh yeah, Plaid Hat was my go-to. And Dead of Winter… I had trouble getting a copy because it was so hot when it first came out. And I remember I did it exactly wrong, and I tried to source copies from a bunch of different places. And they all came in at once. I ended up with three or four of them. One was an eBay acquire, and one was an order from a store, and one was a trade… It was crazy.
CD: That’s awesome. But they were popular at the time, so probably wasn’t too hard to get rid of your extras.
DTD: No, no, I do remember bringing one to a convention, and just putting it on a table with a little sign. And the sign was up for 1 minute, before a guy just threw cash at me, and said, “Mine.” And that was it.
CD: Yeah, it was a phenomenon like we were not prepared to be able to… we were not prepared for that big of a success.
DTD: It was so hot when it came out. I remember they were so hard to find. They just blew out.
CD: It’s only part, but it was part of the initial factoring in to selling, was the growing pains of trying to figure out how to… Because I had never gone and got any venture capital, or went out and taken a business loan out. I had always done it kind of piecemeal, as I went. And so, I didn’t have any experience with that, wasn’t really trying to go into debt. So, now that I’m more experienced in business, that’s what I should probably have done to meet demand.
DTD: You were right on that edge between people kind of making board games in their garage, and you know, bringing a hand-drawn one to a show, and the real business of board games. You were right on that cusp.
CD: And I was just figuring out as I went. I have no background in anything.
DTD: What did you do before board games? Was there a before board games?
CD: Yeah, so like coming out of high school, you know I had this idea that I’m going to… I’m going to figure out what I want to do, and just figure out a step along the way, and then if I ever get to the point where what I want to do requires a degree, then that’s the degree I’ll go to school for. And so I started off saying like “I want to do something that’s meaningful”; My uncle has Down Syndrome, and we’ve had other people within the family/friend circle that have had one mental handicap or another. And so, I thought I want to work with mentally handicapped people. I don’t know what that means, or what that looks like, but I want to work at helping out. And ended up getting a job doing in-home care kind of thing.
DTD: That’s hard.
CD: So, there would either be a home or there were a few different residents. And you would just go and help them out with the check book, and depending how high functioning they were, what different things that you would need to go and do with them.
DTD: My aunt actually was a social worker who ran a home that was for the mentally handicapped, and it was a high percentage of Down Syndrome in this house, and she often, whenever I saw her when I was a kid, she would have someone with her. And as a kid, I ran into, you know, her “clients”. She would always introduce as “This is my client Norma. This is my client this.” And so, a big part of my childhood was that.
Norma was minimally functional, noncommunicative. But she loved to mimic adults, especially when they yelled at me, a kid. She would point at me, and yell “Nomma, nomma, nomma… Boy!”
All my best, Norma, wherever you are. Love, “boy”.
CD: I did that for years, I don’t know, four or five years. But meanwhile, I was really involved with my church. And had started to intern under my youth pastor there and met a social worker because of that work. Because she was getting some of her “at risk” kids over to our program, that we were running, and ended up doing some work for her, with at risk youth. And still interning at the church. There were other interns, and one guy that was like favored for the role of eventually taking over for youth pastor. I was looking around at what I could do, that would be of value to the church. And they were using clip art for graphic design and stuff like that, done by the secretary. And so, I was like, “I think I can figure some of this stuff out better than what they are doing.” And so, I was starting to get into media, video editing, graphic design. Just self-taught as I went. And kind of made myself invaluable there, and got hired on. Did that for, I don’t know, 6-7 years. And in the meantime started to really get into this game Heroscape.
DTD: Weren’t you like more than just interested in Heroscape? You were in Hasbro, weren’t you?
CD: Well, it started off just being interested in Heroscape. And then ended up becoming part of the community, and working on fan creations, and ended up running the community. And end up getting work as a play tester. And then that turned into work as a designer and writer. And that’s what kind of got my feet wet in design, like studying under Craig Van Ness, who was the designer of Heroscape. Rob Daviau, who was another.
Someone should interview that Rob guy. He sounds fascinating.
DTD: That’s awesome. So many of my interviews go back to Craig. It is really funny. And I didn’t know him, or of him, until these interviews.
Craig, call me. We’ll do lunch.
CD: He’s a really great guy.
DTD: Everybody just raves about Craig, and I started looking up biographies and looking up ludologies.
CD: I don’t think there’s a ton out there about him, because when you work for Hasbro, you’re kind of undercover.
DTD: It’s hush hush. So, you worked with Rob when you were in Hasbro? I didn’t know; it’s a big company.
CD: Yeah, I did some work with Rob. And Rob had done some work on Heroscape, so I knew him from that as well. At first it was like meeting celebrities still, like Rob and Craig had designed Heroscape, and that was like “Wow!”
DTD: You don’t understand, that’s what I’m feeling right now.
CD: No, I doubt it. [laughs]
Seriously, I get that every time I do an interview.
DTD: No, I’m serious! This is fascinating stuff. My bio is like 2 lines long. This is cool stuff.
CD: I’m giving you the whole background.
DTD: I love it.
CD: And then that turned into, that turned into, like “Well, I’m working on all these other people’s games and designs. Why not make my own?” And that eventually turned into Summoner Wars.
DTD: I was going to say, Summoner Wars was the first one, right?
CD: I designed something before then. But it was bad. And then I did Summoner Wars. Just, like, a snap idea of “What if I did a miniatures game that used cards instead of miniatures? And then each deck is like a faction army, and then I could do a miniatures game that was super affordable, but still played kind of like a miniatures game.”
DTD: And that fan base is rabid. People love Summoner Wars. I played it, I have it. But, I mean, other people are like, “No, you don’t really play Summoner Wars.”
CD: Yeah, there’s some real hardcore players out there. And I didn’t know the torch still burned for Summoner Wars until I had rebought Plaid Hat, and just kind of threw out there in my statement, that like… And right now, I’m working on 2nd edition, I think I might release it. And then tons of feedback on that, really positive.
DTD: As soon as that press release came out, it’s very first thing I looked for is, “Where is Summoners Wars?” And it’s like, “You didn’t say Summoner Wars…”
CD: Right now, we’re also looking at Dungeon Run.
DTD: Really? Oh, I would be so excited. I’ve got such a nostalgic thing for Dungeon Run.
CD: Yeah well, Dungeon Run. Yeah, I feel like Dungeon Run could deliver a lot better on its premise. And that’s why I’m interested in revisiting it, because I think it was good, but I don’t think it ever reached great. We were young and inexperienced for one, so like we make goof-em-ups that way. But it’s also the idea of “We have to cooperate, but we were…” You see it come out later in Dead of Winter. Obviously, it became an interest of ours to some degree. But the idea that you need to cooperate, but you’re also diametrically opposed.
DTD: And that is such a hard tightrope to walk.
CD: When am I going to backstab, unfriend.
DTD: I mean, you kind of perfected that traitor game.
CD: Bistro’s working up a new prototype, so we’ll see where he’s at with it, and what else we can do. No promises but we’re looking at it.
The Plaid Hat web site sums up Bistro best: “Mr. Bistro is the heart of Plaid Hat Games, meaning he’s red, full of blood, and makes a mess if you squeeze him.”
DTD: That’s awesome. Well, in my childhood, I kind of wanted all the games that weren’t there. And my big, big desire when I was a kid, is I wanted a board game version of D&D. That’s what I wanted.
CD: Well that was Hero Quest for a lot of people.
DTD: It was Hero Quest, and I had Hero Quest, and I loved Hero Quest. And I had Dungeon, 1970-what? 1977? Because I am at least one generation removed from you. And Talisman I jumped on in 82. And there were a bunch of them. And the frustrating thing is there were so many Avalon Hill games that looked like they were going to be “role playing game in a box”. They weren’t. And then had a rulebook like a hundred pages long.
Once again, my brain fails me. The classic Dungeon! came out in 1975. I believe the version I owned was TSR‘s third edition, which came out in 1981. Wizards of the Coast put out the newest version in 2014.
CD: I think the first thing that we did that to me felt like we were kind of pioneering “role-playing in a box” was Mice and Mytics.
CD: Because there’s where we really brought in the kind of narrative elements of role-playing games and put them in a board game.
A brief break for a sip of La Crema 2016 Pinot Noir. It is quite good, even though it’s an Oregon Pinot. I look quite sophisticated as the waiter asks about appetizers.
CD: I didn’t even look at them. I scoped out the entrees.
DTD: We might need a minute. We have been chatting like crazy.
CD: I’m happy to just eat steak, but if something looks good to you, you know I’ll help.
DTD: Well I had the cheeseboard last time and it was big, but it was ridiculously good. And yesterday I was with… Do you like mushrooms at all?
Their cheese selections were sublime, but it was a tremendous amount of curd. A glorious, caseous abundance of fromage. A true “Love me and despair” type of dish.
CD: Oh, I love mushrooms.
DTD: Good. Because yesterday was with people who are allergic to mushrooms and I was trying hard not to say anything. I would love to try something mushroom because they had neat mushroom stuff.
I won’t name names, Mark Streed. No mushrooms… hrmph.
CD: They have a wagyu portabella mushrooms, and they have a king crab meat stuffed mushroom. Both of those sound awesome.
DTD: I would go… Oh, your choice. Both sound great.
CD: I would really love a crab meat stuffed mushroom.
DTD: Let’s do it! We’ll do that. You get a steak but there’s also little sides, and they’re really nice, so I would really love to get the forest mushrooms side. Because I was eyeing it really hard yesterday.
CD: We can split that up.
DTD: Oh yeah, they’re family style. They come in a little bowl, family style. Last time I got the crispy brussels sprouts, which were good. Well everything was good. And the Au Gratin was really good. So maybe two.
The restaurant not only had appetizers, but you were also expected to order sides with the entree. More food is always better. Excepting maybe the cheese, which I would totally do again…
CD: How do you feel about asparagus? I like asparagus with a steak.
DTD: I’m fine with that. Let’s go for it. That sounds great. So, mushrooms and asparagus. And then we will start with the Portobellos.
CD: That sounds great.
DTD: And then you pick some big nasty steak you like.
CD: I’m just going to get an 8 oz Filet mignon.
DTD: You sure?
CD: Yeah, I’m not a great big eater with those sides and that…
DTD: Not a worry at all, it’s… I mean, you can tell by looking at me I like food. I am one of those weird people that there is literally no food I do not like. There’s… everybody’s got something. But I will eat anything, and usually enjoy it.
CD: I’ll eat almost anything. I have like a psychological thing with mush… with onions.
CD: Yeah, I mean I wish I could enjoy them. They’re in everything and for a reason. Like, I just ate a mushroom. Why do I keep saying mushroom? Onion as a kid, and just threw up all over the table at Ponderosa at like 3 years old. My Dad picks me up and moves to a different table. [laughs]. The poor server. It’s only in reflection…
DTD: Oh, I feel for you, my son when he was young was very sensitive, and we, there were many restaurants we only went to once. Like anything would set him off. It was kind of crazy.
CD: I don’t know what it was.
DTD: And that sits with you, you are at such a young age.
CD: I don’t know if I actually have like a physical issue with mushrooms or if it’s all psychological.
CD: Onions, or if it’s all psychological.
DTD: Either way, it’s real. And by the way the deserts here are incredible as well.
CD: Alright then I’m glad I’m only getting the 8 oz.
DTD: There you go. That sounds perfect. I was so happy with that prime rib last time; I might just go for that again. It was incredible. So, what, you need foie with yours, right?
CD: Foie, “foie gras” – is that how you say it?
DTD: Yeah, I think so. “foie gras”
CD: I have only ever had that once, at like a sushi place.
DTD: Oh, duck liver. Yeah, it’s odd.
CD: It is cruel though, right?
DTD: It is cruel and horrible. And I would never eat such a thing. When I owned my Veterinary Hospital, I hosted Christmas parties every year, and I would make a point to cook something really strange at every Christmas party.
CD: Whatever animal you couldn’t save?
DTD: No, no. These were real. We did kangaroo and we did llama and all sorts of neat stuff. But my favorite is I did a single deviled egg.
DTD: Well that’s just daily, that’s normal food. I did a single deviled egg out of an Ostrich egg. That was wonderful, it just looked so beautiful.
CD: How did you divvy that up?
DTD: Knife, and I just cut slices from it. And it was crazy. It was hard to do; They don’t open well. 2 hours to boil it.
CD: That’s really good.
Next time Colby and I drink wine, while he relishes me with the tale of starting Plaid Hat Games, from Heroscape fan communities, to Summoner Wars through Dead of Winter. Plus, appetizers.