Colby Dauch, founder of Plaid Hat Games, and I have just been delivered some truly impressive hunks of meat. We are in a steak house, so it’s OK. Discussions today range from Plaid Hat’s new release Forgotten Waters to predictions about our old friend COVID and even game styles. But now, those damned rules…
CD: Yeah, for sure. But I hate learning games.
DTD: Well, I’ve had to learn a significant number of your games.
CD: Yeah, I hate it. That’s part of why I try to write the rules, and I’m trying to always improve in it. It’s because I feel like it’s the worst part of a game. And I know this is not true for everybody.
DTD: “So, I’m just making up my own.”
CD: It’s just like, this is the worst task. We are giving people homework here. How do I make it as painless as possible? That’s always my goal with rules.
DTD: And I’ve seen a real evolution of that. I think as the years go by, what I’ve seen change in board games the most, is ease to get into it. So I love this bloom of very elegant, simple-ruled games, that have very complex choices that all break up into craziness. It’s tough. But Amerithrash games, they’re even harder. I’m not sure that there is a truly super-elegant Amerithrash game.
CD: Because they are trying to tell their theme.
DTD: And they thrive on additive stuff. You know, more experience, more randomness, more rolls, this does that, here’s what’s going on around you.
CD: We are still trying to push designers away from “if-then” rules, so stuff that kind of goes against the “Except for in this one situation, then you do it like this…” Those are the rules that get missed. And I think I’ve taken it too far on a couple of titles and I’m having to push the pendulum back the other direction a little bit. I feel like rules are such a barrier, I need to get them out of the way, that I have not included enough examples or visuals, stuff like that. Just trying to pare down the rules to their essence.
DTD: Sure, but you always want to try to tighten things up, and tighten things up. So, if-thens and conditionals, they just, they add complication. They add stuff.
CD: And you can have that stuff, but it should exist in cards. It should exist in stuff that is revealed as you play.
DTD: Because you don’t need to remember that, you don’t need to memorize it. It’s not something that always needs to be in mind.
CD: That was that was the best thing about the adventure book system for me. The adventure book, like doing Jerry [Hawthornes]’s Stuffed Fables and stuff. Was the idea that the rules can be in the book and that guys you encounter, we can do unique roles that help tell the theme of the situation. And it is something we will keep doing under some new system.
DTD: That’s awesome. Tell me about the new game, please.
CD: Forgotten Waters. So, it’s our next Crossroads game, it’s by Isaac Vega. It’s a zany pirate adventure. It’s scenario-based, but not campaign. And you’re sailing around trying to complete, you know, some objective that’s set out, and it will change as you complete it. It tells a story along the way, but also there’s a huge sense discovery. Depending on what you run into out in the open ocean, or islands that you land on.
DTD: I love that sense of discovery and exploration. Those are the games I’m really drawn to. If there is a world there, and I’m uncovering bits of it and figuring it out.
CD: And then depending on where you end up in this world map, it sends you to this location book. And then there’s choices that you can make, the actions you want to do, they are based on the location. And those might send you back to the entry. The entries are all handled by apps. Like, back to a new entry based on the stuff you were doing that tells some story.
DTD: So, is it an app driven game?
The sad empty flatware, last evidence of our debauchery, is quickly, silently scuttled away.
DTD: That was fantastic, thanks very much.
CD: So, it is app-driven. We did a web app, so that way it’s got the longevity.
DTD: It seems like some games with web apps have been less accepted than games with dedicated smartphone apps.
CD: And we might do a dedicated app as well. Whatever it’s called – Native app as well.
DTD: “Native”. Oh, you sound like a designer.
The waiter had to work very hard to find it, but very tiny uneaten pieces of dinner are offered back to us in the very smallest of boxes.
DTD: No, I’m staying at the hotel, so it would be a little tough. It was really good, but it’s a lot of food.
CD: We may do a native app, too, just because that’s how some people are used to finding these kinds of things. Even though you can already do it on your phone, we have already designed it for ease of use on the phone. They designed it so that it can be installed on your phone from the web address.
DTD: That’s true and every phone has a web browser, so it’s not like it’s impossible or anything.
CD: But we may do a native app just for ease of finding it. But the reason why the web app is important to at least have, is because it is very, very low, to no maintenance. So, when the new iOS comes out, it’s not going to break. And we also have in-house people doing it now, instead of any kind of third-party.
DTD: Nice. So, you’re in control of it.
CD: Yeah, so we’ll be able to maintain this long-term.
DTD: So, what do you think about dynamic changes? One of the things that can be done with an app or a web page, that I think is underutilized, is you can have monthly events, daily events. You can have special events. You can have anniversary events. You can dynamically change the stories.
CD: So, yeah, we will be able to add more scenarios.
The waiter returned with hot towels, certainly not a comment on my appearance, bits of steak stuck to my cheeks and eyebrows. Additionally, the undeniably important coffee and dessert menu is proferred.
DTD: Yes, thank you. Oh, that’s wonderful thank you. Hot towels, or mildly tepid towels. So, I’m sorry, I was distracted by the hot towels, and I missed the last thing you said.
Hot towels are awesome. It’s a testament to our reptile brain that just adding heat can bring me into a blissful torpor. I may have moaned.
CD: I forget what the last thing I said was.
Oh yeah, Colby had towels also. We are as good as done. No intelligent conversation from here on out, at least until coffee. You have been warned.
DTD: You were talking about dynamically changing apps.
CD: We could do, we can add new scenarios. But also, what we’ve already done, is even if you’re in a scenario, even if you end up at the same location, even if you make the same choice, the app knows you’ve seen a piece of content, and we have another piece of content that it could show you instead. We’ve got that like four times over.
DTD: Oh, I love that.
CD: So, there’s always a sense of discovery, and not knowing what to expect. We can always add more of those as the game ages. Or even, like as you say, like as a special event, do stuff around that. So yeah, we already have started to play around with that a little bit. And we are going to have a full voice-acting cast. Maybe you don’t have a theatrical group, or group is not comfortable reading out loud. Well, full voice-acting cast. The app knows what page it told you to turn to in the book, and so there’s a background ambient sounds that match the scene of that page. So, if there’s a volcano in the background, you can hear it erupt. If you’re in a storm, you can hear the storm and waves.
DTD: That’s very cool. So is it out yet? What’s the timeline on it?
CD: April 10.
DTD: So, its real close.
It’s out! I own it and have played it! It is awesome! I am excited! This is what an exclamation point looks like: !
CD: One of the things I was saying earlier about Crossroads; so yeah, that’s one of the ways that we are solving it, is by having multiple things that can up, so you don’t end up with the same Crossroad multiple times in a row.
DTD: Okay, so is the app handling the Crosswords cards all on its own?
CD: They’re no longer cards. They’re just Crossroads events. So certain things will trigger, where its labeled Crossroad event and you’ll read some story, and then you’ll have some thematic choice to make. And then there’s just two buttons. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You make your choice and then you find out what happens.
DTD: And that’s really nice because the Crossroads cards often had this bit you should read, or this bit you shouldn’t read. You should see this, you shouldn’t see that. And I think it’s all variations of that Robinson Crusoe thing, that here’s an event that’s going to change the game, and things you shouldn’t really know. And apps handle that so well.
CD: And that was something that got really praised with the Dead of Winter app, because we did it in that way, so that you just didn’t see what your choices lead to.
DTD: Absolutely, and I like that, I like that a lot.
CD: Now unfortunately the Dead of Winter app went down, because we’re using a third party: Emerson Matsuushi. You’ve had him on this podcast before?
CD: Is this a podcast?
DTD: This is just transcripted audio, written out. But yes, I have had him to dinner.
CD: Emerson is to blame. I want to put the blame solely on his shoulders. [laughing] Well, I mean, it makes sense. Like, he has moved on to so many things. He was the third-party developer on that app.
DTD: Oh, I didn’t even realize that.
CD: That was what he did before. I’m sure that came out in your interview.
DTD: I knew he was a computer guy, yeah.
CD: You know, with all of his success, he just hasn’t had time to maintain it. That’s why we brought somebody in house this time around and developed it in house. So that we wouldn’t run into that.
The waiter, much faster than I had guessed, has returned for our selection of dessert. Passing is not an option. And they sound amazing.
DTD: My goodness. You got a pick?
CD: Yeah give me that cherry cheesecake.
Waiter: That’s my personal favorite.
DTD: I would love the chocolate banana bread pudding. And an espresso.
Breakfast of champions. And hyperkinetic monkeys.
Waiter: Single shot, double shot, triple? What are you feeling?
Coffee is the mind-killer. Coffee is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my coffee. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the coffee has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
DTD: I was waiting… How high do the numbers go?
Waiter: [laughing] Well, it’s not by Starbucks, so I can’t do a “grande” or something.
CD: I’ll do a cappuccino as well.
DTD: Probably a double espresso. That’d be great. Thank you so much.
CD: I’m flying out at 1 a.m., so I got to stay up.
DTD: Oh, my goodness, you got to stay up for this. The flights, have you checked, has your flight done anything weird on you?
This was early in our new normal of living with COVID-19. We were at the GAMA Expo in Reno, Nevada. Several companies cancelled at the last minute. Attendance was down by a significant amount. And now, on the last day, travelers were being told that their flights had been cancelled. We knew just enough to be nervous.
CD: No. Just flying to Dallas. Nothing weird has happened. I know a lot of stuff has happened for international travelers.
DTD: It’s true. I’ve got quite a few friends who are trying to get back. Especially to Britain, things are getting very strange. And they weren’t supposed to, but they are.
CD: I met with someone from Italy and he’s having some trouble.
DTD: That’s got to be the worst. I know they’ve closed everything.
CD: I met with someone from Spain and he is having some issues with his flights getting cancelled, trying to get home.
DTD: Man, so what are your thoughts about all this? We are going to make predictions. Because probably this is not going to actually hit the webpage for several months. What’s your prediction for conventions – you think that the other conventions are going to go down?
Oof – predictions and foretelling. I am my own harbinger of doom.
CD: Coronavirus for conventions… Oh boy. I’m really hoping not. I think China is starting to contain it where they’re at, which gives me hope that other countries can work it out. China had to take some extreme measures to do that, like forcing people to stay in their homes and stuff.
DTD: Yeah, they’re good at that.
CD: I don’t know that we are going to be able to pull that off.
DTD: Americans are too stubborn and free-willed. We’re going to break quarantine and do what we want.
CD: I think some really bad mistakes were made early that is going to make it really tough on us.
DTD: Do you think we’re going to have an Origins?
The Origins Game Fair was first postponed from June to October, before it was cancelled completely.
CD: The exponential nature of what seems to be happening in other places makes me really nervous about our ability to congregate.
DTD: Future conventions. I know the next one, Tokyo Toy Fair is not happening. Boy, you think about Origins and GenCon…
GenCon, scheduled for the end of July, was cancelled and turned into a virtual convention, held from July 30 – August 2.
CD: I think Origins, well they had GAMA, that’s where we’re at now. And that’s run by the same people. So, maybe I’ll say Origins is at a greater risk, but that makes me think twice.
DTD: It was a really weird GAMA, there was so many… So many people that didn’t show, and so many people that left early. It just a little “ghost town-ish”
CD: It’s following a lot of conventions of a flu, and flus in the past have typically waned in the summer, so maybe we still get a GenCon? They typically come back, come fall.
DTD: Oh, it’s true, they go through their little waves. It’s kind of what I think. I think this is going to turn into another pervasive part of life just like flu. I don’t know. We turned on a bummer note.
CD: Yeah, I mean that would really be horrible. Our life expectancy would go down, because its targeting, it’s really dangerous for older people.
DTD: And then it is going to bring a zombie epidemic, and then you’re going to be more prepared than most.
CD: But then, like people that aren’t even that old are going to go into comas, and crazy stuff like that. It’s just so much more dangerous than the flu.
DTD: It’s so bizarre, and I think there’s a lot of unknowns. There’s so much panic in the air. Not a lot of known things.
CD: I think there needs to be serious precautions taken, without mass hysteria happening.
DTD: People need to be smart. Without running around with your hair on fire.
CD: Like having to turn planes back because somebody coughed.
DTD: No, it’s totally true… Did you get a chance to play anything at the show?
CD: I have not played anything at the show.
DTD: Really? There were a couple things out there that caught my eye, that I thought were pretty interesting. New [Wolfgang] Kramer and [Michael] Kiesling game, Paris. That’s in that Euro front.
CD: That’s not something I necessarily would have been drawn to. I only play euros when somebody else brings them out. I wouldn’t have tracked it down. If the art was really cool, maybe.
DTD: It’s really pretty, it is really pretty.
CD: That can get me. Like Tidal Blades is a game that is coming out.
DTD: That’s been coming for such a long time.
CD: It’s been coming for a long time, you’re right.
DTD: I think it’s more myth and legend now.
CD: Now it’s being delayed, production is being delayed because of Coronavirus.
Tidal Blades Kickstarter fulfillment is now expected in September 2020.
DTD: Well, everything. I mean, nobody’s sure of any delivery times anymore.
Our coffee arrives with proper pomp and circumstance.
DTD: Thank you so much. What do you think about the Kemet-style “quick fight, go out and beat ‘em up” games?
CD: But the Tidal Blades…
DTD: Oh, I’m sorry.
CD: The game’s a good euro, but the art was like, “Yeah, I want to play this game.”
DTD: It’s cool. I remember being really excited about it last year.
CD: I haven’t played Kemet. I’ve seen people play it. It looks rad. It’s a war game – an area control war game, right?
DTD: It’s an area control game with a small board. So, everybody is close enough, that you can’t really hide in corners. You can’t camp and build up. You just have to run out and fight.
CD: Yeah, that’s something that attracts me.
DTD: And that seems to be a trend now.
CD: I thought Kemet was a little brown looking for me. But the game play attracts me.
DTD: Well there’s a second edition now. Oh yeah, it’s very aggressive, and very fast.
Kemet: Blood and Sand had a successful Kickstarter campaign in June 2020, raising €799,687 from 10,504 backers.
CD: I’m thinking of a first edition, right? Very sandy color?
DTD: I don’t think the second edition is out.
CD: Brown as a color just puts me off of games, because I think Euro game when I see them.
DTD: Soulless. Yeah Well, it kind of looks like there’s a trend towards more of these area control over a small board. More aggressive than Smallworld kind of stuff.
CD: Do you know Caravan… What’s it called now? Century, the game that I had… I was the one to sign that with Emerson [Matsuuchi].
DTD: Really, Century: Spice Road?
CD: Yeah, we called it Caravan then. We did all the art production. We did all the, for the Crystal Golems, doing 2 editions. All that was my idea. Spice Road, of course, was Emerson’s original idea.
Just so we neither starved to death nor collapsed from lack of energy, the desserts arrived to contribute to the sheer heart massacring power of the coffee.
DTD: That is awesome. That is a monster. I need some pictures.
CD: Those look like Luxardo cherries, too.
Next time, Colby and I roll around unabashed in a depraved worship of sugary desserts. Actually, its all very civilized. Mostly. We talk about games to come from the Hat, memories of Heroscape and long adventure games. Stay tuned!