I am reminded of Douglas Adam’s concept of the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where travelers have a fancy meal, and watch the world end. Colby Dauch and I are enjoying a fancy meal, and unbeknowst to us, we are sitting at the edge of normalcy. In this episode, Colby talks about how he got started in this crazy board gaming world.
As with many things, it starts with wine. A nice Oregon La Crema Pinot Noir, to be exact.
DTD: I like that Pinot a lot. It is good stuff. Not that long ago I bought a house in wine country and now I’m afraid I’m turning into a wine snob.
Don’t worry, the waiter made sure it was in a proper Pinot glass.
CD: Hey, if I’m going to go out, I want to go out with somebody who knows their stuff. So, they can order for me.
DTD: Not a worry at all, man. I am more than happy. Where are you home based now?
CD: Originally from Ohio. I’m in Dallas now. Made that plan right before I sold to F2Z. Have been in Dallas the last 5 years. But I’m moving back to Ohio actually.
CD: My wife wants to be back around family. We can buy land there. Land is really expensive to own in Texas, because there is no state tax, and it’s all, it all comes out in property and land tax. And she’s an equine science gal.
DTD: Really? Oh, how cool.
CD: So, she wants land so she can board and train and stuff like that. So, we are moving back to Ohio, be closer to family, be able to do her thing. I’m going to build a warehouse on the land, and some offices for Plaid Hat. One of my guys is already in Ohio, most of them are in Texas.
DTD: We want the delivery of the new games on horseback. Like the whole Pony Express thing.
CD: Yeah, that’s a Kickstarter level, Kickstarter goal.
DTD: Like a stretch goal? Hand delivered by Colby.
CD: Topless, riding on horseback. Game tucked under my elbow.
Yes, this is Colby. I promise. why would I lie?
DTD: Topless is the next Kickstarter goal. One more down. We will call it the Putin special.
CD: It’s one more to keep, to prevent me from being topless [laughs].
DTD: My weird Ohio fact is, the national Broadcast Dialect in the United States, the accent that you’re supposed to have on broadcast television, is based in Dayton, Ohio.
DTD: That is the standard perceived American accent.
CD: I’ve always kind of wondered, like how accents… How there are still different accents?
DTD: We are just a really, really big country.
CD: Yeah, but with television…
DTD: Oh, you think it would standardize it?
CD: Yeah, I kind of feel like it would start to standardize. You would hear this is how people talk?
DTD: Maybe it will, and maybe we haven’t just had enough time yet? With television, we probably have only been about really 50 years of people being obsessed with it. And children learning off of it, growing up with it, it’s only my generation I think, maybe one more. I always wondered why the East Coast accent was very, very similar to the California accent, but the weird ones were all in the middle.
CD: I wonder if that broadcast, like that Ohio broadcast thing…
DTD: I grew up in New Jersey, and so, you know, everything on the East Coast is very, very close together. So, I was in Ohio not uncommonly, you know I had things to do. And drove cross-country so many times, it is always I-80 right through.
CD: That’s our interstate.
DTD: That’s it. Okay, so you are designing fan stuff for Hero Quest?
DTD: Heroscape. I’m sorry, I misspoke.
CD: Jerry, Jerry Hawthorne, who did Mice and Mystics, he was a huge Hero Quest fan. The most I’ve ever seen this man geek out, it was absolute Hero-worship, was when we met Stephen Baker, who is the designer of Hero Quest.
The waiter comes, and like good children talking to Santa, we placed our order. Crabmeat stuffed mushrooms to start, sides of asparagus and forest mushrooms; The same mushrooms I wanted yesterday. Thanks a lot, Mark…
I ordered a small prime rib, medium rare, straight horseradish. I want it to hurt. Colby went with an 8oz filet, medium rare, with a cabernet sauce.
DTD: I’m going to be mean and take some pictures. Because I put it on a website text only, but I insert pictures and I insert little comments.
CD: How’s my hair, I’ve been wearing a hat all day.
DTD: You can put the Hat on, it’s on brand, man.
CD: I guess that would be ideal.
DTD: No, it’s up to you, it’s up to you.
The company is called Plaid Hat. Colby was wearing a plaid hat. I’ve only seen Colby in a plaid hat. I think we can forgive this great game designer a little hat hair.
CD: I gotta spread the brand.
DTD: Awesome, too fun. I’ll probably take some pictures of food and things like that too. I just want to make sure I’ve got stuff. And the one I always forget, is I like to get a picture of empty plates and things like that. Very cool. So, Jerry was a fan of Hero Quest.
Mr. Bistro, by the way, was his handle on the HeroScape forums, and it just stuck. His real name is probably something like Jason. Jason Glassbrenner. Just a guess.
DTD: You’re all Heroscape people.
CD: All met each other through Heroscape fandom.
DTD: Was everybody in Hasbro, or was this just the fan base?
CD: No, I mean, I was not in Hasbro first, I was Heroscape fandom first. And then that lead to Hasbro. Same for Jerry, he worked alongside me doing freelance at Hasbro on stuff. But yeah, him meeting Stephen Baker… Stephen Baker does not come out to GenCon and all that, but had come out to GenCon this this one year, of all the years that we had gone. And was up in a hotel room where some Hasbro people were hanging out. And we go up to this hotel room, and Jerry meets Stephen Baker, and it was the most star-struck I’ve ever seen somebody.
DTD: There’s been a couple like that. I mean we’ve all got our cool stuff. Man.
DTD: Well of course. You know, Rob’s the designer of Cars 3 Trouble Edition. It’s hard to beat that.
Thank you research department.
CD: He’s got some great credits. I believe he came on designing Trivial Pursuit stuff.
DTD: Star Wars The Phantom Menace Trivial Pursuit. No, I do my homework.
According to Rob, he was hired by Hasbro to help integrate Star Wars Prequels into board games. Trivial Pursuit was one of the first. I read it in an interview somewhere.
CD: He’s got some great credits in there. I think all Hasbro game designers have some bizarre range of credits.
DTD: Oh, they forced him to do some really strange things. It was all about IP’s. Extending their brand.
CD: Yeah, I have never had any experience of corporate America. Because I told you my whole back story there. I had had no experience of Corporate America. And going to Hasbro the first time, and just observing how often these people spent their times in meetings, was mind boggling to me. I’ve always hated meetings.
DTD: Well, the more you meet, the less you get done.
“No one of us is as dumb as all of us.”
CD: That’s how I’ve always thought. I was always very aggro about having to do meetings at the church.
DTD: I totally get that if you… because I owned that vet hospital, and I totally get that if you don’t do meetings it gets away from you. You kind of have to do them, but they’re a necessary evil.
CD: My staff has always pushed me to do more meetings, because I was always reluctant. Just, so often it ends up being three people that are actually having that meeting, and the rest of the people are just sitting there.
DTD: It’s really funny because there was… there’s a whole study of group dynamics in meetings, and things like that. And in Big Corporate they will actually hire people to be jerks. Just in meetings. So, in these big corporate environments they’ll hire a person, their only job is to go to the meeting.
CD: Do they know that’s their job?
DTD: The other people in the meeting don’t know.
CD: But the jerk does?
DTD: They do. They’re hired to be an ass at the meeting, because that’s the way to stimulate other people to jump in.
CD: I could do that job! [laughs]
DTD: Well there’s a job opening for you! It’s actually got a more formal title than that, but there’s all these studies.
CD: That was my job at the church! [laughs]
You have got to love a church instigator.
DTD: Well that says wonders…
CD: Oh, I wasn’t well liked. No, I was pretty well liked, except for in the meetings.
DTD: I love it. That is so cool. So, when Summoner Wars came out, was it a big hit right away, was it kind of a slow burn? Did it surprise you?
CD: It was a lot easier to get word out about a new game back, it was 2009. And man, it’s different now. It’s so different now, but back then… Like, I went to BGG.Con and started to get a couple people there. Went to PAX [East]…
DTD: Well, it wasn’t that early. There already was BGG.Con going on.
CD: Yeah it was in a hotel at the time. Well, still in a hotel. Very recently moved.
DTD: They just moved.
In 2019, BGGCon Fall moved to the Hyatt Regency Dallas from the smaller Dallas Fort Worth Airport hotel.
CD: It was in a different hotel back then. It was smaller. We went to PAX East and started to get it in front of people there. But it was Tom Vasel really liking Summoner Wars and speaking very highly of it. I think that was a big part of our success.
DTD: Well that’s really cool, because I’ve had a lot of people, a lot of the designers I’ve talked to, have talked about one of their early games doing very, very well, and that becoming a basis to be able to be freer and more experimental about what comes after. So, I wasn’t sure in the early days if Summoner Wars was this kind of nice, stable, predictable game for you. To allow other things to occur.
CD: Yeah, I mean not to the… Like Dead of Winter was really the game that…
DTD: That was the one that made it?
CD: That was the game that’s been, you know. At the time, Summoner Wars was successful. And the reason why, I felt like, you know, if I want to stay in games maybe I’ll launch a company. And this seems like the right game to do it with, because you know, the expandability and everything like that. You can build a base. And so there was some of that. And then we did Dungeon Run, we did Mice and Mystics. And it was just reinvesting earnings on reprints, and then whatever new thing.
DTD: Sure, first game funds second game…
CD: And that kind of thing, yeah. At time we didn’t have Kickstarter, where you did a Kickstarter and then you did a new Kickstarter for the reprint. And a Kickstarter for the next game.
DTD: I kind of remember when that started. The very first Kickstarter game I think was Alien Frontiers. Was the first Kickstarted board game.
Alien Frontiers by designer Tory Niemann successfully funded on Kickstarter with $14,885 from 228 backers on June 26, 2010. Oh, how times have changed.
CD: Yeah, it was right around that time, like it was very shortly after I started, that Kickstarter started becoming a thing.
DTD: Have you gone through the Kickstarter route?
CD: Never done a Kickstarter.
DTD: I didn’t think so. Is it something that you’re looking at now? It’s kind of becoming a way of the world.
CD: Yeah, yeah, it has. At the time like when it was first happening, I was very much like, “Well it feels wrong to do a Kickstarter.” At the time it felt like… it kind of felt like, “This thing is existing for a new company to get their idea off the ground.”
DTD: Yeah, that was the original goal. It says it right there: It is not a pre-order system.
I admit it. I order through Kickstarter like its the Sears Catalog at Christmas.
CD: As a company that had some amount of establishment, that had had some success, and had enough money that it could reinvest my own money, I felt like it was my duty to have enough faith in the product, to spend my own money on it, to get it to market. And then convince other people to buy it. Rather than, I know that I would have been so anxious had I been spending other people’s money. Like that would have made me so anxious.
DTD: That’s a huge responsibility.
CD: So that was kind of my thing on Kickstarter to start with, and some of the started, established companies started doing it. I was like, “I don’t know about that. That doesn’t seem right.” But now it’s just been like, “Oh yeah, right.” Everybody understands that’s just the thing.
DTD: And there’s definitely some companies that are just living and breathing Kickstarter.
CD: Well, there’s other companies that, they put up a Kickstarter, make five million. So like, yeah, I wouldn’t stop making Kickstarters, either! If I could expect that as an initial return.
DTD: Oh yeah, CoolMini has really made their name on Kickstarter, they’ve become the master of it.
CD: It would be silly for them to just stop doing it now. So much of their customer base, like that’s how they know to go and get their games.
DTD: Oh, it’s true. It’s crazy. So, do you play your own games?
CD: Yeah. Only really during play testing.
DTD: Because it seems like a really weird thing to me. I’m not counting play testing, because you’ve banged your head against the wall, and play tested and iterated so many times. But once one of your games is out…
CD: By the time a game is out, yeah, I’m pretty grossed out by it.
DTD: Yeah, you’ve got to be a little tired of it. I’ve played this 10,000 times.
CD: With Summoner Wars it lasted for a long time. I did a ton of lay testing for that, and then you know showing it at shows, and showing people. And it held up for a lot of plays for me. I never really got to the point where I was tired of it. Like each game always felt good.
DTD: Well, that’s cool. That’s the sign of a good game, man.
CD: But for the most part, or maybe it’s just ego… But for the most part, by the time a game comes out, it’s like, “Alright, I do not want to play that anymore.” Dead of Winter is an exception, too. I’ll bring out Dead of Winter every once in a while with certain groups. Or especially if somebody, it doesn’t come out often, but I guess if somebody who has come to know me through other routes other than Plaid Hat Games, but knows that I have this other thing, and wants to play one of our games. Dead of Winter is really a go-to to show “Hey, we did this really cool thing, and this is our most popular game.”
DTD: It’s a good one to pull out.
CD: And I still enjoy it when I bring it out.
DTD: Do you insist on being Colby?
CD: You can’t. it’s a random draw, remember?
DTD: I know… You could pout a bit.
CD: Yeah, Kodiak Colby, if you’ve got him in your game, he comes out pretty frequently. Because he’s got one of those crossroads cards, that if he’s not in play, and he’s drawn he comes out. He makes himself known.
DTD: It’s a weird question, but how involved were you in the original Dead of Winter? Because you don’t have designer credit on that one, do you? But I’m assuming you are involved in all of them when they are coming out of the studio.
CD: Yeah I’m involved to some degree, but I never felt the need to take any kind of designer credit on those. I would take a producer dredit. I think it’s the producer’s job to challenge the game designer like as its going. Or to give that kind of input. And I wrote a lot of Crossroads cards.
DTD: So, you were also acting as developer on that.
CD: And then Bistro would come in and make them better, but I would come up with the core idea, and like, “Try to write this.” So as a producer I’m involved in all sorts of parts of it, but I’m not the… I always see the designer as the driver of the bus.
DTD: Oh sure.
CD: And I’m just kind of being a backseat driver as it goes.
DTD: That’s an interesting way to put it. So, was it presented to Plaid Hat, or was it designed in house with people already there?
CD: So, Isaac Vega was friends with Jon Gilmour and Jon had shown him a design, it wasn’t called Dead of Winter at the time, but it was this idea that there were zombies, and you’re in a colony. Add then Isaac worked on it with John, worked on stuff. And then very early on in the design, we got shown at a GenCon, and the game wasn’t there at all. Like <Bleagh>. The ideas were really cool, what the game could be.
DTD: Oh, I was blown away when it was first described to me. It was incredible.
CD: And Crossroads weren’t there until the very end. Which became the main thing of the whole thing, like how we ran with it. But it wasn’t until the very end of development that Isaac was like… And it was put in the game to solve of the problem of downtime. I don’t know that it did, but that was the whole reason it was put in the game. And it ended up being so much a part of the game’s character.
The Crossroads system is simply put, a deck of cards. The player to your left draws a card, and watches you execute your turn. The card specifies something – if the player moves, if the player fights, if the player yawns, something. If the person with the Crossroads card catches you doing what the card specifies, they interrupt, and an event occurs.
DTD: But a lot of people kind of forget to pass the deck around in the right order, and they’ll be kind of random who’s reading the cards. So, it’s not like it’s a role for the down player.
CD: And with Forgotten Waters, we have incorporated Crossroads in a different way that solves all that. And solves repeat Crossroads problems, and all those kinds of things.
Sing with me
APPS! Ahhh-ahhhh. They saved every one of us.
DTD: I’m being careful, and I don’t know the timing really of Plaid Hat leaving Asmodee, and things like. So Forgotten Waters was…?
CD: We developed it while we’re still working at Asmodee. But it’s coming with us.
DTD: It is?
CD: Yeah, yeah.
DTD: Oh, I missed that, I’m sorry. It was at the Asmodee booth. Oh, good, good. That’s awesome.
CD: Yeah, I came and manned that little table, because I couldn’t get my own booth. I didn’t have time.
DTD: I think every time I came over to the Asmodee Booth, I saw you just leaving.
CD: Yeah, well I got pretty bored over there. It was just like, I had the one little table and the convention wasn’t particularly well-attended.
DTD: It is such a weird one. I was saying it feels like some bizarre… What it really feels like is we’re at the beginning of a “B” Zombie movie. Any minute you’re expecting The Horde to come marching through the hall. People have such a weird attitude.
CD: And not having my own booth, I think if I had my own booth, people could seek me out. But being inside of that booth, people don’t necessarily know they can come and talk to somebody from Paid Hat. So I would stand around for too long, get bored.
Next time, Colby and I discuss the evolution of the Crossroads system, the other Corey and his Unexpected Games, and reasons to be acquired by a giant game company. Plus, spoliers: Ruby Peach Intermezzo.