You have arrived at just the perfect moment, dear readers! I am sitting with Colby Dauch, founder of Plaid Hat Games, and we are in Bimini, a reasonably fancy steakhouse in Reno, Nevada. But right at this very moment, exactly right now, the eponymous steaks have hit the table. My prime rib, and Colby’s filet, each cooked to perfection, surrounded by garnishes and appetizers, painting the very air with primordial, carnal temptation. Never write when you are hungry.
DTD: Ooooh. Fancy stuff.
CD: That’s a big steak.
DTD: I’m going to have to have to be a millennial and take some pictures of this stuff.
CD: I actually am a millennial. I think I’m the first year of millennials, the senior millennials. 82 I think is the cut-off for millennials, and that’s my birth year.
DTD: I don’t know, to be honest with you.
The waiter delivers my appreciated steak accesories, upgrading the prime rib to ultraprime rib. I have my beloved bitter herbs, the horseradish, and au jus, the finest of well steeped cow tea.
DTD: Thank you very much. I wish I knew. I was born in ’68, so I know it’s not me.
CD: ’68? I would have pegged you as younger.
DTD: I’m sorry, even with all this? [pointing to my half decade worth of grey hair]
CD: Well you have the salt and pepper, but like…
DTD: All right, the hair: I have to explain. I have some friends here at GAMA, that every time I walk by them, they would force me to sit down in front of them, and they would play with my hair. So, every day at GAMA I’ve had different weird hair. I’ve had French braids and Dutch braids and man buns. They just are getting infinite joy out of making my hair in weird ways. Even in a seminar. They were in the same seminar as I, and they told me to sit in the row in front of them, so they could just play with my hair. I’m not going to say no.
I am in desperate need of braiding. Rachel and Katy, my hair is a literal rat’s nest. Pandemic is not complimenting my ever growing coiffe.
CD: But I don’t think of salt and pepper as like, it doesn’t age people for me. Isaac [Vega] and Sam [Healey] since I’ve known them, since their early twenties, have had salt and pepper hair. It’s just that Dominican thing I guess for them. So, I don’t associate it with age.
DTD: Well I will take everything I can get. Are you still a game player, or is developing, designing, and running a company taking too much time? Because I’ve had a lot of designers tell me “I don’t really play games, because if I get a group together and want to play a game, I’m going to prototype the one that I’m working on. So, I never have time to play something else.”
CD: There’s definitely some of that. Like you want to take the opportunities you have to work on what you are working on. But I think if you… I worry that if I were to do that to the exclusion of playing other designs, that it would prevent me from seeing how the industry is growing and changing, what’s hot, what’s working.
I always appreciate a good waiter who checks up on me. It must be interesting leaving a plate of food with hungry, vicious wolves, only to return later to a near asleep litter of calm puppies. Content with our contentedness, the waiter leaves us to our musings.
DTD: Thank you so much. Well that’s what I was going to lead into. There’s that firm belief that if you want to be a writer, you have to read a lot. And if you want to be a television guy, you have to see a lot of shows. So you are in that strong camp, that if you want to be a game designer, you have to play a lot of games.
By that logic, I should be a chef or dream interpreter. I only eat and sleep.
CD: I think so.
DTD: So, what sort of games do you like?
CD: I like Ameritrash games. I think that’s pretty clear from the choices I’ve made from publishing.
For the uninitiated, modern board games tend to be lumped, for better or for worse, into one of two big categories:
An Amerithrash [Ameritrash or Amerigame] game is one that is highly thematic, involves quite a bit of randomness, and has players adventuring or conquering. Often players directly interfere with each other, if not outright attack them.
A Euro game tends to be more cerebral, with players almost working on their own solitaire puzzle-oriented games. These games tend to involve collecting resources, delivering goods or building engines.
DTD: That’s not super clear, I mean…
CD: This is what I say about euro games: Often when I play them, that was engaging. It was interesting, it was engaging, it was neither fun nor memorable.
DTD: Ooooh. Alright, well I have a good friend who, his short and sweet way of saying that is he says “That was soulless.”
Shout out to my cruise buddy Ilja.
CD: Yeah. I’m not knocking euro games. Well, I guess I am.
DTD: I think I have proof that you are actually knocking euro games [pointing to the recorder].
CD: I’m not intentionally knocking euro games. I think for some people, that’s what they want. They want to come and do the puzzle. For me, they typically do not have enough player interaction.
DTD: You want the experience.
CD: Typically, they are not tying… It’s not about, oh those mechanics. It’s about tying the mechanics to the theme in a way that makes you feel, that helps tell the story that that theme is saying, that the game is trying to tell.
DTD: Sure. Well I am, I play everything.
CD: Yeah, so do I.
DTD: I love, I really do like Euro games. And I am the first to jump on a soulless, multi-player solo, puzzley euro game.
CD: And I play them too. I am entertained to just be engaged by this intellectual challenge. That works for me. But not something I’m prepared to call “fun.” Or “memorable”. I’m not going to have this great story coming out of like, how I turned my red points into blue points.
DTD: No, it’s pretty rare that people fondly reminisce about that for years to come. There’s a… Oh, there’s a really famous description of games that they are “self-imposed obstructions for entertainment”. But I think that’s a euro game.
CD: I want a game where you can piss off your friends playing it. I like that kind of game.
DTD: [laughs] Well there you go. More than just stealing what they want, you want to aggressively go after them.
CD: Yeah. I mean, if they can take it in good fun. I take that back. If they’re a bad sport about it, I love it even more.
DTD: You’re that kind of player.
CD: I’m not as bad as [Mr.] Bistro, but a little bit, yeah.
DTD: “Mental Note: never play games with Colby.”
Actually I think it would be a whole lot of fun, but Colby would demolish me, then laugh triumphantly about it.
CD: I one time… If I get upset about a game now, I’m always kind of doing it in good fun. For the theme of the moment or if someone’s being a bastard to me. I don’t actually get angry at games anymore. Because one time over a game of Heroscape, I was ready to get in a fist fight.
DTD: You were angry? Not just instigating?
CD: I was so angry. And afterwards I was embarrassed myself, after I calmed down. I was embarrassed of myself, and I was particularly embarrassed, because after analyzing my actions I realized the reason I was so upset, was because I wanted to be the smartest person in the room. And I was tying my performance in this game to my intelligence level. And for some reason I had to be more smart than other people there. And ever since then… Like in that point, I realized that’s not why I’ve come here to play a game. It shouldn’t be why I come here to play games. It should be to have fun and have fun with other people. I’ve never gotten truly angry at a game since.
DTD: And I do, every once in a while… Because I have a group who gets very excited and things like that can happen. Every once in a while, you have to remind yourself, “This is supposed to be fun.” This is not an obligation.
CD: I have friends that get angry, but I also have learned to not let their anger ruin my fun either. So instead, if they get angry, I’ve decided I’m going to have fun by making you more angry. If you want to be a little whiner about it… I’m really going to drill in.
DTD: That’s awesome. No, at this show, I’ve been playing games a lot with Travis. With my friend Travis at Above Board.
CD: The evil one.
DTD: Evil Travis. And he gets infinite joy out of needling me during these games. And it doesn’t it certainly doesn’t help that he’s an actor, and a voice actor. So, he has every tool at his disposal to absolutely destroy me. And I don’t often win. I’ve said a lot, when you play games, it seems to me, and I’m sure other people have talked about this, and I’m probably stealing it from someone. But it seems to me that there’s people who play to win, there’s people who play to explore the mechanisms of the game, and people who play to be social. And I am definitely an exploratory player. I, in a lot of Amerithrash games, I will be exploring the story and forget that I’m supposed to be getting points. So, I’ll just have fun doing stuff, and then go, “Oh yeah, there’s an end goal, and I haven’t done it.”
Travis is one of the nicest individuals I know, and my beloved convention companion. I am very excited about his upcoming board game television show, Above Board. I really miss hanging out at conventions, in these, the end times. And he is inherently evil.
CD: Well, those who will come to this interview to listen, because maybe they know me or something, there’s a deep cut of… we used to do the Plaid Hat Podcast. And I would have one of my buddies on, that we called Rios. And he had a segment called “Jerk Moves with Rios”. He would play games just to be mean.
The waiter, amused by our food triggered energy swings, stops by again just to make sure we are in that perfect state of stupor mixed with euphoria.
DTD: Doing very well, thank you very much. And he would just do it to be mean?
CD: At times, he would try to break the game in a way that was upsetting for people. Just to be a jerk. And like, I had already had my epiphany about why I was there. So, it wasn’t getting to me. But it would get to some people. And for whatever reason, most people just hated it. But for some reason, I would get the biggest kick out of what a jerk he was being. [laughing hysterically].
DTD: That’s incredible.
CD: I’ve seen him bring people nearly to tears. In a game of Battlestar Galactica…
DTD: Oh man, and there’s a lot of room for that in there.
CD: It was too transparent that this dude was a Cylon. And you know there’s a move where you can kill yourself as a Cylon, so that you can go to the Cylon ship and then just directly oppose. And him just going after this other friend of mine, taunted him to kill himself over and over again. And how upset the friend was becoming. It just tickled some dark part in me. Some dark part in me enjoyed that.
DTD: Just making it worse and making it worse. Oh, my goodness. That’s insane.
CD: I know! I don’t know why! And he would just get like real braggadocious and stuff and do a lot of taunting and stuff. And my one friend would get so irritated by it. I was just cackle laughing at it.
DTD: You know I’m quoting you on “braggadocious”. That is… awesome.
brag·ga·do·cious /ˌbraɡəˈdō(t)SHəs/ adjective
Boastful or arrogant. From Braggadocchio, the name of a braggart in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590).
CD: I don’t know, something is wrong with me. Clearly. But I just enjoy it so much.
My next pet is being named Braggadocchio. Especially if it’s an anteater.
DTD: It seems to me that you are the really fun play person to play Amerithrash with. Because if you get these people who take it seriously as a game, and I am just there to win, you don’t get the stories. You don’t get the emotion. You don’t roll play it. You don’t have fun with it.
CD: I think that’s what I really like about it. I think I do play games for the social element. I particularly, I enjoy seeing the bounds pushed. What a game can be, and what the social elements around a game can be. So, I think that’s the part that I’m really ideologically enjoying.
DTD: So, do you like party games like that? The much more social games.
CD: Yeah, I guess it’s more about how the social interactions with the player interacting with the game mechanics and interacting and interacting with the story of the game. That I find most entertaining. So, party games not as much. So, I guess sometimes.
DTD: Yeah, they tend to not be in my wheelhouse. But I have had a couple that I have had fun with. Just because of the group.
CD: Yeah, I can have fun with any number of games, but…
DTD: I’m getting that.
CD: But yeah, they are not my go-to.
DTD: So, what are your favorite games? I’m guessing BSG [Battlestar Galactica].
CD: I really liked BSG. I really am jealous of a lot of… It’s hard for me to, like it’s becoming harder and harder for me to really enjoy a game. Because either I find myself critiquing, “I would have done this different and this different…” And usually production stuff, or rules stuff. Like how it’s worded and such.
DTD: You know how the sausage is made.
CD: So, there’s some of that. But there’s also even when I play a really great game, then I just find myself seething with jealousy, like “Man I wish we had published this!”
DTD: “That’s such a good idea!”
CD: And I feel like Renegade has had a number of those titles. That’s the right name, right?
DTD: Which game are you thinking about?
CD: Clank! is from them.
DTD: Clank! is Dire Wolf Digital. But its distributed through… Oh, I don’t remember. I’m going to edit it, so I sound really smart, but I don’t remember. Maybe it’s Renegade, but it’s Dire Wolf that did the original Clank!. And Clank! In! Space! and all that stuff, and all the variations. I like Clank! a lot.
CD: It’s the blue R. What’s the company?
Colby was totally correct. It is Renegade Games.
DTD: R & R?
I am totally wrong. Not R&R, which is a great company. Interestingly, one of the biggest secrets in gaming is what “R&R” actually stands for. No one but the founder knows.
CD: No, no. It’s a thicker R. I think it’s Renegade. They’ve had a number of things that are like, “Man they did a really good job with this.”
Again, Colby is correct. I am so, so wrong. I need to realize my guests are always smarter than I.
DTD: Yeah, Clank! was very good.
CD: Clank! Legacy is something that… The only thing that I don’t like about Clank is there’s not enough player interaction for me.
DTD: I haven’t played Clank! Legacy yet.
Between the interview and this posting, I have now played and finished Clank! Legacy. A truly amazing experience.
CD: It’s fine. It just feels like anytime I play Clank!, I feel like, “You know what, this would be better if the rest of these people weren’t here. If they were just A.I.’s making their turns instantly, so I could take my turn, because that’s the only thing I’m really interested in here.”
DTD: It was Renegade. Clank! was Renegade. Well, do you like solo games?
CD: The consistency of Renegade is something that’s made me jealous. I feel like they’ve done a good job consistently, which is something I’ve always strived to do, and wanted to do. Scythe was something I was like, “Man…” I contacted Jamey Stegmaier when he put the first images of Scythe up, before he even actually had a game. And I was like, “How can I get involved in this? I want to do this game.” I just knew from those first images that he was on to some special idea.
DTD: The theming was really cool, but with Scythe I get this sense of “This one of the most tightly designed, iterated games I’ve ever seen”. That blew me away a little bit.
CD: They did really good work there.
DTD: But it’s a Euro game. It’s a Euro game that looks like Amerithrash. You’ve got one card type with a little story element on it, but that’s it.
CD: Yeah, and it’s not like that part is super ingrained into the design or anything.
DTD: No, it’s just “Do you want to be good or bad? OK, you get 2 blocks.”
CD: Yeah, I think the production value is a big part of it, but also it’s really crunchy and really well balanced.
DTD: It is gorgeous, but again, Kickstarter money. It is neat. So what do you think about solo games, you said Clank – this would be better if the other people weren’t here. Do you ever play them? That’s a tough thing for a player who likes thematics.
Scythe broke Kickstarter records earning $1,810,294 from 17,739 backers in October of 2015.
CD: I’m saying it would be better if the other player was not here and instead, they were replaced by an A.I.
DTD: Which is a solo game!
CD: Well, that’s a video game.
DTD: That’s true [laughs]
CD: That’s why I don’t… There’s a market for solo games, and I feel like we should be going after it. Or at least for some things, go down to a solo.
DTD: I think it is happening more and more.
CD: Personally, I think they’re kind of sad. That’s what video games are for – they can tell great stories, audio video visuals.
DTD: And they keep track of the bits so much better.
CD: Yeah, I just feel like if I were getting out a game, on a table, and sitting up a game and I had no friends there to play it with, I would feel really bad. Like every time I eat dinner alone, I would have that kind of a feeling.
DTD: I get it. There is… So, I get the video game comparison definitely. But there’s some sort of just inherent joy in playing with the bits. The physicality, the tangibility, you know picking up pieces. And big blocky chunky bits and moving them around. And I get that.
CD: And that’s what people who are into solo games have said. And it’s like, yeah I don’t have any friends around, but I really like… Part of it is it’s kind of flattering for our industry, in that it’s like, not only the tactile bits and the production, but also I’m interested in hearing the stories or the ideas that these people have, that don’t necessarily have the resources to do a video game. And so that’s kind of flattering. Just as being part of the industry; not that we’ve made solo games.
DTD: Oh, the video game industry is so incredible nowadays. The art that’s coming out of there is amazing.
CD: I just feel like if your excuse for playing solo board games is, “Oh but they’ve got great tactile bits.” It’s like, “Yeah but make some friends. Get some friends into this.”
DTD: Easier said than done.
CD: I mean, maybe. But I feel like you go to your board game shop, you try to make it happen there. They have apps and stuff. Doing this stuff to find game groups and meetups. Now, maybe it’s a social anxiety thing. If that’s the case, that’s a whole other issue. I also struggle with going out and making new friends. But I feel like board games could be a salve for that. You know, because it is less focused on me and these people I don’t know, and more focused on this event.
I have some serious issues with social anxiety, and I agree board games add a structured framework to socializing. I am no longer just mingling, which is terrifying. I am now completing a task, following a plan, playing a game. And I can do that.
DTD: It takes you out of your head, you know. You start sitting there, sweating about it and worrying about it. The board game is something else to focus on. I now have a task. I have a reason to be sitting here with other people.
CD: I think board games are a great way to meet friends. For me it takes all the social anxiety out of the situation, when you introduce a board game.
DTD: It’s an imposed structure on being social. Which I love.
CD: Yeah, I think part of social anxiety for me is I don’t know my role in this situation. Because I don’t get social anxiety at, like here I don’t have it. At conventions I don’t have it. Because it’s like, “Oh I know what my role is in this place.” But when I go to an event where I don’t know a lot of people, I feel like I don’t know what I am doing here. I don’t know what to do.
DTD: That’s exactly it.
CD: The worst one was a girlfriend took me to a dancing bar, and that was the most social anxiety I ever felt. Because I felt like I’m supposed to… Everybody’s dancing and I’m supposed to be dancing, but there’s no way in hell I’m doing it, because I’m not comfortable enough. And so, it made me super uncomfortable. At a game, suddenly I’m stepping into a role; I know what my role is here.
DTD: Yeah. I know it gets me really hard early in a board gaming convention. I’m the first one there. The tables aren’t really all that set up anymore. Maybe there’s one guy sitting at a table. I’m probably not going to walk up to that one guy and play the game that he’s got on that table.
CD: Yeah, same. Getting into the game in the hardest part. Once you’re in the game, it’s no longer socially awkward.
DTD: Oh, then it’s great. And I’ve never really had a bad experience jumping into a game like that. One of my other friends summed it up really well. He said he’s very comfortable with a new game with players he knows, or a game he knows with new players. It takes more energy, more of a barrier, to do both at the same time.
Next time, as the inevitable food coma sets in, Colby talks more about the new Plaid Hat app-driven, crossroads adventure, Forgotten Waters. Plus dessert, and musings on all the conventions going away.