In this crazy giant-sized edition of Dinner with Corey, myself and Colby Dauch are finishing up an epic meal at Bemini’s Steakhouse in Reno NV. The dessert has been served, the coffee is flowing, and we are reminiscing about the classics. Colby was talking about his work with Century Spice Road, the popular game by Emerson Matsuuchi and Plan B Games.
DTD: So, Century was originally Plaid Hat?
CD: Yeah, and then when Sophie [Gravel] made the deal to sell F2Z, she took that with her.
Remember, children, the 2000s were complicated. Sophie Gravel owned Filosofia Editions. Filosofia bought Z-Man and became F2Z Entertainment. F2Z bought Plaid Hat Games and Pretzel Games. Asmodee bought F2Z, but Sophie left with Pretzel Games and formed Plan B Games. Phew!
DTD: But it doesn’t feel like a Plaid Hat game.
CD: Exactly, that’s where I was going with that. There’s a Euro game that was special enough, it’s like, “Well I can’t not try to publish it.”
DTD: So, would you have put more story into it?
CD: Just through the visuals to the Crystal Golem Edition was all. Spice Road Edition was Emerson’s original theme. And I wanted to do the Crystal Golem version instead. But Emerson felt like it would be better positioned for the markets that like those kind of games to do the Spice Road theme. So, the idea of 2 editions was like, “Well let’s just do both, and see what happens. See which one performs better.”
DTD: And see, from the public it feels like it was almost an afterthought, almost a milking the IP kind of thing. And the initial announcement said, “This is a one off.”
CD: I was going to launch them both simultaneously. They were both going to come out simultaneously. Originally.
CD: And the idea was like, Plaid Hat fans are going to like the Crystal Golem Edition, so maybe that theme will get them to play this really great Euro game. But Euro players might be turned off by that, and this other theme might sell. Well, there’s something for everybody kind of thing.
DTD: Well, no, I had no idea.
CD: And then Abomination is a recent game from us, that is very much a Euro game but what I loved about that was that it was a Euro game that did a great job of matching with its theme.
DTD: Oh, the theming on that was incredible. Just that Gothic sense. And the gore in there.
CD: And then the production we did was backing all that.
DTD: I haven’t played it yet, because my copy keeps getting stolen. Friend one will steal the game, and play it and tell me how great it is. And the second that he returns it, friend 2 steals it and plays it.
I got to play it during this enforced isolation, and theme just seeps out of every errie pore. It’s a great resource collection game, but not for the faint of heart.
CD: And Dan Blanchett, the designer on that also just did an excellent job… he did like a lot of the writing, too. He just did an excellent job of mimicking Mary Shelley‘s voice, her writing style.
DTD: Because those original ones were very Gothic-Horror kind of feeling.
CD: So, I’m not against Euro games. I’m prepared to sign Euro games.
DTD: Awesome. Well, do you have anything that you are willing to talk about in the future, that’s coming from the new Plaid Hat, the new independent Plaid Hat?
We have talked about it in previous segments, but as a reminder, Colby Dauch had just recently re-aquired his company Plaid Hat, becoming once again independant from Asmodee.
CD: Well, as you can imagine, we are working on a second edition of Summoner Wars. We are also working on a new… Jerry [Hawthorne] is working on a new “Jerry” game.
Designer Jerry Hawthorne is well known for his world-building, engrossing story-telling games – Mice and Mystics, Stuffed Fables, and Aftermath are great examples.
DTD: I’m excited about that, a new story.
CD: We’re talking about doing like… We still want to do the spiral-bound book, still “the book is a map” type of thing. But we want to create a dice-card hybrid. Where it’s got cool card play, and maybe some deck-building type stuff going on, built within the adventure game framing.
DTD: That would be really neat, doing the… Because I think the real joy that deck-building has brought, is as a side mechanic. It works so well as a mechanic for other games, and putting it into an adventure style game or storytelling game… I don’t know that I have really seen that work super well yet.
Clank! and Great Western Trail are fantastic examples of games that use deck building as a side mechanic.
CD: I think we could do it justice when we do it. Because that mechanic is very engaging, and I think can be utilized in a number of spaces, because it’s just cards that tell you what to do; we already do that. This is just a matter of evolving the cards you have access to.
DTD: And people are used to it now. It’s part of our just normal vocabulary. Gamers just inherently get it.
CD: Our understanding, yeah. But the other ideas that you can just… That we will have a version of the game, where you can just take out the cards, and just use the dice, and it becomes a kid friendly version of the game. So, like, its gamer friendly; we will have a crunchy gamer friendly version. But also, a kid friendly version, so you can play it… You can play the campaign. And we want to take it all the way down to one player. And you can just play the campaign as a deck builder, and story, and all that. Or you can play it with your kids. Because that was something that people loved with Stuffed Fables.
DTD: Well, that’s really cool. So, along with the campaign things, are you thinking about delving into legacy games? Again…?
Plaid Hat Games was of course the studio behind the release of the legacy game SeaFall in 2016.
CD: This will have Legacy aspects, you know, elements to it. I don’t think things will be getting destroyed or what not. But the idea that the game is going to remember the choices you made and try to do some stuff like that. But I think Legacy as a brand has kind of fallen out of favor.
DTD: I kind of agree. I think it’s turned into a weird key word that doesn’t really have the same meaning. So, there’s a million games labeled as Legacy, and very few of them are. They’re usually campaign, or one-offs or something like that. The real Legacy games are kind of few and far between at this point. And there some very, very good ones, but everybody was predicting that Legacy games were just going to blow up, and everything was going to be a Legacy game.
CD: Yeah, because it’s such a brilliant idea.
DTD: It is really cool. And I loved hearing Rob [Daviau]’s stories about getting Risk Legacy going. He pretty much snuck it past Hasbro.
Rob Daviau: someone should interview that guy.
CD: Yeah. Word is that’s how you got a good game made at Hasbro sometimes. [laughs] I remember, there’s a Heroscape fan-community story. There was this poor marketing lady at Hasbro that had won herself the moniker of Dragon Lady amongst the Heroscape fan community. Because Heroscape would have these big box expansions. And there would always be two of them released at a time. And one would be a terrain expansion, like “Here’s trees and stuff you can add to your 3D terrain”.
The waiter returns, reluctantly surveying the post prandial carnage, an embittered soldier once again taking in the desolation of war. But with chocolate and coffee.
Waiter: I can offer some caramel chocolate truffles to keep the sugar rolling.
DTD: Oh, that’s what I need is more sugar. I’m not going to sleep for days. Thank you so much, that was amazing. You were saying that her reputation…
CD: They come in two types, and one would be big heroes, like oversized figures. The case count on these was three, just having the dimensions of them. And so, the marketing lady figures like, we are kids in the toy aisle, because it is a Hasbro marketing lady. “They aren’t going to care about a stupid tree. They want the one with the dragon in it!” And so, they packed them with two dragons, but these are all unique figures. You could only field one of them at a time. But the game really had this huge following amongst this hobby gamer crowd. And they all wanted a lot of trees to build cool terrain with. And so, what happened was that Walmart’s shelves, they were not stocking the new expansions, because they still had left overs of the old expansions, because they had so many of these goddamn dragons on the shelf that no one wanted. Because players already had a dragon, they wanted more trees!
DTD: I want a ton of trees! Man, that’s kind of like in the 1970s when the Star Wars action figures were hot, people wanted to own, you know 20 Jawas and 20 Stormtroopers. The cool kid had a million stormtroopers.
CD: You only need one Luke, but they just made a bunch of Lukes.
DTD: Oh, you need a ton of Stormtroopers, though. Need all the trees, that’s great.
CD: So that’s part of what killed Heroscape.
DTD: Was the demand for trees…
CD: Was just that the sales were not as good as they could be, because it was just dead stock sitting on a shelf, clogging it up from the new expansion coming and hitting the shelf. Because the store wasn’t going to reorder. When the store reordered, they were going to get the new wave. But they weren’t going to reorder while they still had SKUs on the shelf. They still had SKUs on the shelf because the distribution was wrong. Because a toy person was making the call, rather than a hobby person. What they had made was a hobby game.
DTD: And it was such a weird game because it did straddle that line, where, as a sophisticated hobby gamer, it was one of the only times you went to KB Toys or Toys R Us to try to get stuff for your hobby.
CD: Well, it’s how I even found out about hobby gaming. Because I was in a small High School, nobody was playing Magic, nobody was playing D&D. I didn’t know about hobby gaming. But this game showed up on a Cartoon Network commercial or something, and I was like, “Man, that seems like something really cool!” So, I went out and found it. And then went to GenCon for the first time because I had joined the Heroscape community online, and I found other Heroscapers. And the news has come out that they were going to have an exclusive repaint promo figure at GenCon. I was like, “Well, I guess we are day tripping to GenCon, because I gotta have this.” And then I found out about the wider world of games as a result.
I’m not happy about the term “Heroscapers”. I think they need a new term. Heres my ideas, free. Use them as you please.
DTD: Not too far for you.
The table is cleaned, the check is paid, and the waiter has not kicked us out yet.
DTD: I was at a random dinner a while back, and started talking about games and stuff like that, and the guy sitting next to me at the dinner said, “Oh yeah, I knew all those guys. I know Craig, I know Rob. I worked with Heroscape.” And he’s all, “You want to see a picture of an unreleased Heroscape figure?”
CD: Who was it, do you know?
DTD: My mind has gone in recent years. And he showed me the Dwarf.
At this point, I need to clarify how completely wrong I was abot many things. The gentleman at dinner was the ever wonderful Rod Phelps. And he showed me characters from Hero Quest, which I always mix up with HeroScape. A cardinal sin.
CD: Yeah. Dwarves eventually came out. When was this? Was this recently?
DTD: This was a couple months ago.
Dice Tower Cruise, January 29, 2020. Thank you, research department.
CD: Was it Will? Do you remember what company he works for now?
Nope. Not Will. Rod Phelps.
DTD: None, I think. I don’t think he works for anybody now. This was just, I was sitting by him at a teppanyaki table. It was really kind of incredible. This was a group… Do you know Chappy?
CD: Chappy? I know it as a robot.
DTD: No, no, it’s a guy. He’s from Aspen, Colorado. And he goes to a lot of the gaming conventions. And he gets friendly, friendly with everybody. It was his party. So, I guess it wasn’t as random as I’m making it out. But I don’t remember his name. I wish I did.
Michael Chapman, Chappy, is one of the most wonderful gamers I have had the pleasure of knowing. And he knows everybody. I am qualified to say this, because I’ve been accused of knowing everybody.
CD: There’s Derrick, I know he did some different work on it. There was Will Forte, no not Will Forte, that’s an actor.
DTD: I think that’s someone else. No, I would have remembered if it was Will Forte. It definitely was not.
CD: I mean, before he got into acting, he made Heroscape figures.
DTD: Did he? Ow wow, that’s pretty unexpected.
CD: Yeah, you didn’t know? I am addicted on Will’s last game.
Will, I hear you’re a game designer. Let’s do lunch. Call me.
DTD: No, I had no idea. I don’t know, I apologize. I’ve opened up a big can of worms that I can’t finish. Man, I was much more a Hero Quest guy. I didn’t play much Heroscape.
Very ironic that my excuse for forgetting that it was Hero Quest not HeroScape is that I was more into Hero Quest. I think I am just old and feebleminded.
CD: Well that’s how Jerry had gotten into HeroScape, because well, that’s the name, right? The name is a play off of Hero Quest. Milton Bradley or Hasbro or whatever was doing something in that vein.
DTD: Well, that’s even a tricky bit, because they were all buying each other out around that time. So it was, what? Milton Bradley bought Parker Brothers, was all bought by Hasbro, who had previously acquired Tonka, and put it under… They all were in bed together in weird ways.
I had to look all this up when I interviewed Rob Daviau….
Hasbro was founded in 1923. Milton Bradley, founded in 1860, was bought by Hasbro in 1984. Parker Brothers, founded in 1883, was merged into General Mills in 1968, then merged with Kenner in 1985, and was themselves bought by Tonka in 1987. However, our old friend Hasbro bought Tonka / Kenner Parker Toys in 1991, so now they are all one big, happy family.
CD: Do you think Restoration [Games] will ever find a way to do a new Hero Quest?
DTD: Well, I know it’s pretty high in their list.
CD: It would sell like mad, I’m sure of it.
DTD: It really would. And it’s really funny, the last time I was at this restaurant, like yesterday, was with Justin [Jacobson] from Restoration. I should have asked him. He’s good, he won’t tell me anything that’s coming.
I felt it was my duty to ask directly. On July 24, 2020, Justin said “I’ve made no secret that it’s something I’d love to do. But it’s a tricky one, so I just keep working at it and keep my fingers crossed.”
CD: I mean, I know they’ve got to be trying. It’s gotta be high on their list.
DTD: I think Hasbro’s a pretty hard nut to crack, but they got Dark Tower.
CD: They’ve found ways around it in the past. Like Unmatched is [Star Wars] Epic Duels.
Restoration Games, as a company, will take older games and redo them for a more modern, hobby gamer audience. Some games retain their original titles, such as Stop Thief! and Fireball Island, but some, such as Star Wars: Epic Duels, are renamed.
DTD: That’s awesome. Thank you so much. That’s good stuff. Do you hold regular game nights and stuff?
CD: Yup. Once a week. And then we go to other people’s game nights and stuff.
DTD: Just for research, right?
CD: Yeah, mostly we are playing whatever.
CD: Whatever somebody’s trying to play.
DTD: It was one of the more fascinating ones that I heard was, I guess it was Matt Leacock, when he is prototyping, when he’s play testing his games, he will just film the people playing because all he wants to see is their emotions. All he wants to see is are they having fun, are they frustrated, are they confused? And he doesn’t care if the rules are working or if the game is broken. It’s just at what points are they having a great old time, where’s the experience coming through?
Matt sounds fascinating. Someone should interview that guy.
CD: Yeah, I think it depends on the stage. Like at some point you care about whether they understand it or not.
DTD: Yeah, I mean it can’t be totally broken. Unless you are [Carl] Chudyk, then it can be totally broken and you’ll get away with it.
Carl Chudyk has designed many noteworthy games, including Glory to Rome and Innovation. His games are known for having wildly crazy powers, to the point of an ecstatic imbalance. I love his games.
Carl, call me. Let’s do lunch.
CD: Yeah, but I agree with him. That’s the primary concern. What emotions are you trying to evoke, and are you succeeding?
DTD: And can you keep it going? Are they losing interest somewhere in there? Where’s the story carrying them? Absolutely. Did you play, with that adventure style stuff, did you play 7th continent, and those sort of games?
CD: I haven’t played the 7th continent, no.
DTD: It’s an odd one. It’s neat in that the entire deck of cards is pre-programmed to be a location and events. So, you put down a card and the different directions on the card point to different numbered cards, and you find the numbers. And it’s an enormous map of the world that just keeps exploring out for you. And somehow, they’ve integrated into that, it’s always the same map, but different stories get integrated into it. It is really long. It can go 8 hours. You basically play until you give up, and then later you can pick it up from that point.
CD: Yeah, we have trouble with super long games. What we did with Forgotten Waters, is it’s like, each scenario is up to 4 hours. But there’s a save point halfway through. So, you can play for 2 hours, save it, and easily come back.
DTD: Do you call it more a two-part scenario, or do you really save character state and progress state and all that stuff?
CD: Yeah, there’s a… You flip over the ship scribe notepad thing, and it walks you through how to save the stuff you need to save. Then when you come back, and you go into set up, it asks you if you are returning from a save, you say “yes”, and then it tells you how to reset basically.
DTD: That’s pretty cool, I’m excited about that.
CD: Because I like those kind of long adventure stories that unfold at a good pace. I don’t feel too rushed, feels right. But it’s hard to find that much time in a row to play. I love the idea of playing Twilight Imperium. I never get to do it.
DTD: I’ve played it a few times. Even people where Twilight Imperium is their at very favorite game in the world, they play it once or twice a year. Which is more than me; I’ve played it once or twice, and that’s it. I think they did a pretty good job when they redid it, to kind of trim it down, and make it less obnoxious. Because the old ones, TI2 could go forever. It was really crazy. But then again back in that day, what people were shopping for in a game was as much complexity as possible. I mean, it was an attracting point. If the rulebook was bigger and there were more pieces, that’s what you were looking for.
Twilight Imperium has gone through several major editions. TI4 (4th edition) is the current version. TI2 and TI3 are still played and loved.
CD: Yeah, but now it’s been moving towards… There’s still people that that’s what they’re looking for. But in general the hobby is moving towards “How do we include more people in this hobby?” And that kind of stuff is all about intimidation.
DTD: It’s all about simplifying now.
CD: Simplify, yeah, it’s less intimidating. That’s a constant struggle for us too. There are really cool things you can do, through complexity. You want that, but also how do you… at what point do you scare people off? And how do you get in them, how do you make them both?
Next time, Colby and I finish up our epic dinner. The conversation wanders from thematic games through publishing strategies to complexity in board games and IP driven games. Tune in to the exciting conclusion, the final bite, the last swallow.