Welcome to the penultimate parlance with the magnificent Ode, designer Andreas Odendahl. In this episode, we run through all sorts of games, comparing good, bad and ugly. Plus, hot peppers, goats, and the dogs get to go pee. On with the show!
Ode: So, let me ask you something, how is the fire in in California?
DTD: Oh, I… It’s strange, there’s been so many fires. Right now, it’s good. They’re under control, and I’m lucky enough that my house was not affected very much. But this is the 4th time that a large fire has come right next to my house and then gone away. So, I feel like my luck is running out.
Over the past few years, California has been plagued by not only plague, but also wild fires, both up north and down south. My home was threatened, but thankfully not damaged, by the Tubbs and Atlas fires in 2017, the Kincade fire in 2019, and the Glass fire in 2020. At the time of this interview, the Glass fire was waning, but still being fought.
Ode: So, this was close. Yeah, when we were recording for the podcast, of what why, I was talking to Jonny Pac [Cantin], and he told me about all the fires in California and how worse it got. How bad it got, and, yeah, so.
JonnyPac is of course the rumored crazy mountain man seen sometimes within the forests and foothills of California’s Sierra mountains. I personally think he is a myth, much like Sasquatch. They may be the same thing.
If he is in fact real, someone brave should interview him. Over Chinese food.
DTD: Yeah, Jonny’s such a weird guy. He’s so fun to talk to. But he lives out in the middle of nowhere. He lives in the woods, in the mountains, by Lake Tahoe.
Ode: This explains why his games are so weird.
DTD: It’s true. He thinks on a whole other level. You know, one of the things that I’m the most sad about in this pandemic, is I really started to be good friends with Jonny right before the pandemic hit. And I really just want to drive out and play games with him. He’s only an hour away. And I’m still waiting for the pandemic to be more in control, just so I can go play some very weird games with Jonny. Because he owns all the weird games. I have a pretty good collection, but he has many more older, stranger games than I have.
OK, I admit it. I am in love with JonnyPac. Ever since the man built a blanket fort in my house, thereby stealing my cat from me for a weekend.
Ode: Yeah, he seems like a very nice guy. I’m hoping that we…
DTD: Oh, he’s fantastic. He is such good ideas too. Because you know that, you know what he does mostly is the editing, the development work.
Ode: Yeah, yeah, he told me that he’s doing this for this publisher, who published Coloma, right?
DTD: Yes, Final Frontier.
Ode: Final Frontier, yes.
DTD: He’s working with them a lot, and freelancing. He does it for lots of games out there.
Ode: Yeah, he thinks in the same way. He’s trying to find the simple, elegant core of a game.
DTD: Yeah. And he’s the one who explained it best to me – the interaction between players as being either a direct interaction or an indirect interaction. Are you actually taking something from a player, or are you simply getting in the way, and taking an opportunity away. Or are you taking advantage of a player without them being hurt, but you get an advantage for being in the right place? So, all of those different levels of loss aversion. That’s what Geoff Engelstein would call it.
In a direct interaction, I take things from you. And you feel bad. In an indirect interaction, I get rewards, but not from you. And you feel slightly better. The goal is for me to be rewarded for interacting with you, and for you to maybe be slightly inconvenienced, or even compensated, so you don’t feel too bad.
Ode: Yeah, well, I’m always trying to find exactly the same spot, that you have interaction between players. And maybe the other one is, at a certain point, having something maybe taken away, maybe more like an opportunity, but also benefiting from it. So this this is something very interesting for me, and this is actually the case why I love the Luna temple so much. Because it has exactly this. So, everybody is benefiting from it. And even if you harm somebody, it’s not really hurting. And I had a rule in Cooper Island. The rule when you place a disc on another player was different in my version of the game. And it was when you place a disc on another player you could pay a coin or you could say “I’m not paying you a coin”, but instead you get a victory point. And you don’t get the victory point from me, you just get it. You can take it, and that would be a very interesting decision. Because I had to think about giving something away to you, so you don’t score. But if I don’t pay you, because this coin is worth so much, that I’m giving even… OK. You’ll get the victory point. I cannot afford to give you the coin.
In Cooper Island, a worker placement game, you can use a worker spot occupied by another player. You need to pay them one of any resource, or if you prefer, lose one point. Ode is talking about a prototype version, where the fee was one coin specifically, which is the tightest of the resources.
DTD: Because I’m going to use the coin for something way better next turn.
Ode: Yeah, so in the prototype of Cooper Island, you had this. And at the beginning of the game you would easily give a point away for somebody, you would place your disk on. And you would save the money. So, money was even more valuable at the beginning of the game than victory points.
DTD: It’s so tight, yeah.
Ode: And this would change throughout the game. At some point when people would have the engine going, and then they start giving you the coin instead of the victory point. And this was a very interesting dynamic, and the publisher said that this isn’t working in a three-player game, because two players could benefit from each other, and leaving the third player behind. This was a difference, maybe from two to four points in the game. So, in the prototype of mine you would score maybe five points more in total, than you would do now in this version, where you have to pay a coin or a resource. And if you don’t pay, you can get an anchor. So basically, a minus point.
Ode: And this, I really liked this rule so much because of the dynamic in the game, and that the idea that even a coin, one single coin, would be more valuable than a victory point. That was something that really fascinated me.
DTD: It reminds me of the Terra Mystica mechanisms, where you build next to someone, and they have an opportunity to trade off resource for victory point.
In Terra Mystica, a player can build houses more cheaply if they are next to opponents, but the opponent then gets this opportunity to trade victory points for resources, energy. There is a reason this 2012 classic by Jens Drögemüller and Helge Ostertag is always near the very top of BGG’s ratings.
Jens, Helge – call me. Let’s get Dim Sum.
Ode: Yes, exactly, that’s a very good mechanism. A very good example of this, yes.
DTD: Oh, I think that one works very well. It’s good.
Ode: And to me personally, many players say that Terra Mystica is not a good two-player game, and I say, “No. It’s a brilliant two-player game”, because this mechanism of you getting power, and I’m having the cheaper action, the cheaper building costs. This is perfectly holding everything together. The map doesn’t matter, how big the map is of no importance in this game, because in a two-player game everything [whoosh noise] will glue together. Just because of this rule.
It was such a great whoosh noise. I had to spotlight it.
DTD: You have to build next to the other player to afford it.
Ode: Right. It doesn’t matter if the if the map is huge. It doesn’t matter, because the players will stick together, because of this rule. And this is a brilliant game, even with two players.
DTD: It is. It’s really well done. Gaia Project too – it’s essentially the same game.
2017’s Gaia Project is best described as Terra Mystica version 1.5… In space. Terra Mystica is currently ranked at #15 on BGG, while Gaia Project sits at #8. So, it is version 1.875
Ode: So, could we make a small pause, because I have to let my dogs out of the door, because I think they need to go and pee.
DTD: Yeah, of course.
Ode: I will be back in a couple of minutes, yeah?
DTD: No worries at all. That’s fine.
And so Ode and I took our respective breaks. Imagine some moving intermission music here. Go grab a drink.
Ode: [returning] Hey!
DTD: Yeah, I totally understand about dogs and needs. I’m a veterinarian.
Ode: Oh, you are?
Really. I got paperwork and everything!
DTD: Well, retired. But that’s what I did for quite a while. Letting Cooper out?
Ode: Yeah, important job. Yeah, actually Cooper and his small buddy, who’s always barking like hell.
DTD: [laughs] I heard a little barking. It wasn’t that bad.
Ode: No, actually Cooper is not so well right now.
DTD: Oh, no.
Ode: Really had a problem yesterday, and we had to go on a Sunday to the vet, but they said it was a good idea, because he has a heart condition. And he was at the vet today, the whole day. They were doing some examinations, blood examination, urine sample and all the other stuff. And he’s recovering a little bit, but we’re not certain what it is yet. We have to wait for the labs.
DTD: Well, sure. I wish you all the best with that.
Cooper, prominently featured in Cooper Island, and even in promo cards for Underwater Cities, is a pretty special dog. For those interested, Ode has now found out that Cooper has an atypical form of hypoadrenocorticism, better known as Addison’s Disease, and is doing better with treatment.
Ode: Thank you very much.
DTD: It’s tough. I have a pretty old dog now, who is piling up the problems a little faster than I’m ready for… You said before you are off and out in the garden playing a game on these nice days. I have to tell you, I am very excited, because my garden is starting to actually grow a lot of things I can actually eat.
Ode: Oh, very cool.
DTD: I grew up on the east coast of the US, near New York City, and you didn’t grow food. It was city. You didn’t have country. Then I moved to California, and now I can actually grow trees that make fruit. Right now I have my pomegranate trees, making beautiful pomegranates. So, I have been making juice. And I have hot peppers that I am growing. So many, hundreds of them. They are going crazy. These are habanero peppers.
Ode: OK. Very hot.
DTD: I made jam, habanero jam, which I have been snacking on.
Ode: Wow. But it’s very hot, right?
DTD: It’s very hot and very sweet. I like it a lot.
Ode: Yeah, I’m not so much into the hot stuff, but I love… I started growing some things myself this year, but only tomatoes and some peppers. So, what do you say? Well, in German it is “Paprika”. I think it’s pepper, but it’s the same fruit but not spicy.
DTD: Yeah, pepper. The ones that are not spicy at all, we will call them bell peppers.
Ode: Bell peppers. Yes, right.
English is very bizarre in that “pepper” is used so many ways. Bell Peppers, Chili Peppers, Black Pepper… It’s a wonder any one of us can learn the language.
DTD: And the come red and they come green and they come yellow. Yeah, bell peppers.
Ode: Bell peppers, yellow bell peppers I have here. And the problem was always, with us having goats in the garden. So, we have two goats, and they eat everything. Everything. So, you could not grow anything in the garden that wouldn’t become victim to the mouth of a goat here, and so it was helpless.
DTD: I understand. I worked with goats when I was in school, when I was in veterinary school. And we used to joke that there was no such thing as a fence, or anything that could keep the goats in. They could get out of anything.
DTD: So, what your goal was, is you needed to make sure they didn’t want to leave. You make the yard, or the pasture, or the field as nice as possible with things to do, because if they decided they wanted to leave, they would just leave. [laughs]
Ode: That’s actually very true, yes.
This man knows his goats.
DTD: Sometimes we would come into work, and one of the goats would be on the roof. Walking across the building. We had no idea… And these were small goats, the little tiny goats. No idea how they got up there. They were trouble.
Ode: I love those animals. Very cool.
DTD: I like goats, but the, the smell is something I can do without sometimes.
Ode: Yeah, we have only… Our 2 goats are not smelling so bad.
DTD: Oh good.
Ode: They’re both ladies.
First, I am delighted that Ode’s goats are not female, or girls – they are “ladies”. Second, boy-goats are distinctly smellier. It could be because they tend to pee on their own head. There are so many parallels between goats and humans.
Just to remain educational, an adult male goat is called a buck or billy, and an adult female goat is called a doe or nanny. Castrated male goats are wethers. The adjective to refer to goat qualities is “caprine”, although “hircine” is used to refer to the smell of goats.
DTD: Well, I remember in veterinary school. Well, in organic chemistry class in college, there’s an entire list of chemicals that are all named in Latin after goats. Because goats are good at making smelly chemicals. There’s capric acid and caproic acid and… Goats are special, but I love them.
I apologize in advance for the following exchange.
Ode: When they are, when they are ready to mate, then they would scream.
DTD: [laughing] Well I think that’s all of us.
Ode: Very true.
Again, I apologize.
DTD: They’re so strange and they… At least the ones we had, would always have twins. So anytime they had babies it was always two. And they’re just unusual. My wife loves goats, and we’ve talked about getting a goat. And maybe try and have some milk or some cheese. Or do something interesting. But we just haven’t done it yet.
Ode: OK. Here I just want to prove to you that I actually made something that I can eat. OK, it was… I was trying.
Ode showed off his really impressive bowl of salad and grains. I kept the poor man talking for so long, it was barely touched.
DTD: That’s fine, that’s fine, don’t even worry about it.
Ode: Well, I’m having a little bit.
DTD: I felt bad pressuring you into getting some food.
Remember, although I was having a leisurely lunch, for Ode it was bedtime. We were 9 hours apart.
Ode: No, it’s all good. It’s all good.
DTD: So, are there any games up and coming, any new games that aren’t out yet, that you are very excited about? Seems like there’s so many right around the corner.
Ode: Just yesterday I saw the cover of a new game, Carnegie.
DTD: Yes, I knew you were going to say Carnegie.
Carnegie is about to hit Kickstarter any day as of this writing.
Ode: And the cover looks really, really cool. It’s by Ian O’Toole.
Ode: And the game is by, what’s his name? The guy from Troyes?
DTD: Yeah, Xavier… Yeah, he also did Carson City.
Ode: Yeah, genau. Yes.
DTD: Xavier something. I’m going to edit this, so it sounds like we really know what his name is.
Ode: Please, please do so. He’s a really nice guy, I met him once. And really cool ideas for his games. And I think this could be, it could be very interesting.
DTD: I loved Troyes and Black Angel. Those are… That mechanism I think is really neat. It’s very cool with the dice; He does neat things with dice drafting.
Ode: Well, let me I… I made a geek list of games I am looking forward to… Let me just, let me just check here…
Ode: No, no. Quined Games.
DTD: Quined. OK.
Ode: I think Pearl Games is not into so heavy games any longer.
DTD: Black Angel I think was Pearl.
Ode: Yeah, true.
DTD: That’s what confused me.
DTD: I don’t know anything about that. I know Tom Lehmann’s stuff, but I have not heard about Dice Realms.
Ode: Oh, it’s a game where it could shape your dice, so you could change the… What’s the name? The sides?
DTD: The face? Oh, so you can pull one off and put one on.
Ode: Yeah, right.
Ode: Yeah, I haven’t played that expansion of Roll for the Galaxy, where it could also do this.
DTD: Yeah, Rivalry.
The Rivalry expansion to Roll for the Galaxy includes a custom die with interchangeable faces as one of its 3 modules.
Ode: I think this is brilliant, but it is also deeply flawed, because, you know, the problem with dice is, that face you should change. Could never come.
DTD: I know. It’s hard.
Ode: Like that, and that’s really a problem, and that’s the reason why Dice Forge, I really didn’t like the game, because you would change…
Ode: Yeah. Queensdale.
DTD: I’m losing my words. [Rise of] Queensdale. That had stickers to put on the dice, and that was…
Ode: Yeah, right.
DTD: That was interesting, and I had a good time with that.
Ode: Yes, but also the same problem, but it wasn’t the main thing in the game, that you could change your dice. I think they had the rule in this game, that if you change the die you could use it once, what you change, and then you might never roll it again. But it’s actually the only, the only thing I can imagine a game like this would need. Because it can happen that you would never roll the face you changed, so it’s completely useless.
DTD: Well, it’s a little bit of a push your luck, that you’ll change your face and then it won’t come up, so you’ll want to change another one on the same die, and you end up adding a lot to one die, so that you will get a new face. So, it’s kind of the Space Base mechanism or the old Catan mechanism [ECO-12]. It’s stacking the deck.
Ode: The only thing I can imagine, is that… Or the only guy I could have ever imagine making a game like this really work is Tom Lehman, so I’m really looking forward to Dice Realms. Yeah, I think I think he’s very creative. Very good designer.
The Puerto Rico mechanism, although difficult to describe, is definitely a favorite. In short, each player can select a special ability from a group of abilities, in turn order. Once taken, the ability is not available for the next player. The abilities all are returned at the end of the round. Additionally, unclaimed abilities often get incrementally improved each round with resources or points.
See Action Drafting, ACT-02, in Geoff Engelstein‘s Encyclopedia of Mechanisms.
Ode: Haven’t played so far. I’m a huge fan of Race for the Galaxy and Roll for the Galaxy, but I wasn’t so sure about New Frontiers because it is very close to Puerto Rico.
DTD: That’s the problem I had with it. The essence of Race for the Galaxy was that you kind of bet on what action was going to be the action this round. Was someone else going to pick the action that I want to do, or do I need to make that my action so that I’m sure it will happen? Where do I put my bets?
Ode: And New Frontier made that a back seat to the Puerto Rico mechanism, where everything just happens. And it didn’t… For me it did not work for that kind of game.
DTD: But again, I love Roll for the Galaxy and Race [for the Galaxy]. Roll I like a little better. I’m in that camp.
Ode: I agree on, yeah, I like it a little bit better as well. I’m not certain, because I’m a huge fan of well-rounded, well-designed, simple games, I’m not even sure if it needs the first expansion. I think the game could even work with the just the base game. The second expansion adds very interesting stuff, but it changes the game in a sense…
DTD: They are too complex.
Ode: It loses its focus.
DTD: Yes. I agree. I think the expansions for Roll are not the greatest.
Ode: And so, I never bought this, the second expansion. Yeah, but I’m looking forward for this Dice Realms game.
DTD: I need to look into that. I don’t know too much about it.
Oh no, the interview is almost at an end. Next time we finish up, and discuss mathematics in gaming, plus mathematicians in design. Plus we touch on Splotter Games, catering to newbies and physicality in games. Join us for the final bites soon!