Welcome to part five, the second to last story in my snacking sit-down with Wingspan designer, Elizabeth Hargrave. We are slowing down as the hour gets late, stuffing the last Ethiopian masterpieces in to our mouths by hand, and chatting up games, designers, birds, and interestingly…Chile.
DTD: So, have you seen lately any mechanics in games that just blow your mind, and make you want to think about how to integrate that in something cool down the road?
EH: That’s a good question. I haven’t played much new stuff this year at all, so if something came out this year that’s like innovative, I have no idea. I can’t remember the last thing that blew my mind.
DTD: [sarcastically] You’ve gotten jaded.
EH: I’ve gotten jaded. I don’t know, I don’t know.
DTD: Well, I’ll tell you…
EH: So yeah, you tell me! What should I look at?
No slouch, Elizabeth called me on my bluff. And I balked. My mind drew a blank.
DTD: I’m terrible. I’m retired, I have too much free time, and I have very poor impulse control, so I have bought and played almost everything. And I’m to the point where I love, like you said, to find games from areas and realms and genres, that I don’t know anything about. I want to find them. So, I’ve bought a bunch of games from Japan, and just enjoy finding weird little niches.
Waffling. Just waffling.
EH: Oh, I’ll tell you 2 games. I feel like the things that impress me, this sort of plays around with something we were talking about before, is like these games that are like, the rules are super simple and easy to teach, but actually, still interesting games.
EH: So, two that blew my mind in that way. Were Point Salad…
DTD: It is ridiculously simple, it should not be as fun and addictive as it is. It’s crazy!
EH: Yeah, that is an amazing game, and super easy to teach. A little mathy, but people will…people don’t seem to mind.
DTD: I found that some people are really competitive in their games. You have probably heard this a million times. There are people who play games to win, and the game has no value to them unless they win.
DTD: There are people who play it to explore where they just want to try all the neat stuff, and they don’t even know what their points are. And there are people who play to be social. They have no idea what they’re doing, they’re visiting.
I bring up these three board gaming archetypes much too often. I apologize.
DTD: And Point Salad if you play with someone who must win, turns very mathy.
EH: Yeah, there’s certainly, like, hate-drafting.
DTD: Yes, absolutely. But the hate-drafting can be social and exploratory as well.
EH: Right, right.
DTD: Because it’s amazing to me how many of these people that are social players, just want to get together with people, are just the meanest hate-drafters ever. [laughing] They live to just go, “BWAHAHAHA!”
To be fair, I pointed my finger and gave a most convincing evil mastermind laugh. It was great.
EH: Well, it’s very interactive!
DTD: They love the take-that game so much more than anybody else, it’s funny. I have a good friend who plays in a social manner, and really likes games. And he had never heard the term “hate drafting.”
DTD: I mentioned it while he was playing, and you could just see this awareness flush over his mind. He’s like, “This is the greatest concept in my life.” And now every time I play any game with him, it’s like, “HATE DRAFTING.” I’m sorry, I’ve driven the train off course again. What is the other mechanism that blew your mind?
All for you, Dennis. Looking forward to hate drafting again soon.
DTD: Yes! What is with Wolfgang Warsch? He made these…
EH: I know!
DTD: He did some complicated games, he did some simple ones, like Quacks [of Quedlinburg] and Taverns [of Tiefenthal], which are just great. And then all of a sudden, he’s in party games, with Illusion, where you’re guessing percentage of colors, and really bizarre concepts – Wavelength, have you looked at Wavelength?
In Illusion, players look at abstracted pictures, and try to guess the percentage of each color in the picture. Which card has more blue in it? In Wavelength, players need to rate topics in bizarre ways using a very clever dial. From “delicious” to “disgusting”, where on the dial would you put chocolate pudding?
EH: Yeah, yeah.
DTD: How is this all the same designer? How does his brain work?
Yes, I may have a crush on Wolfgang Warsch. His games are so varied and so clever. I hadn’t even brought up The Mind or Ganz Schön Clever!
Wolfgang, call me. Let’s get a 7-course gourmet meal, then a bag of gummy worms.
EH: Him and Vlaada Chvátil, man.
DTD: Oh, Vlaada is just a goofball, I mean, I don’t know him. But playing his games, it’s like, “I like this guy, he’s just weird.”
EH: So, my parents, despite having played Hearts and Scrabble with me growing up, are not at all gamers. And I’ve tried twice now to teach my mom Wingspan; she cannot wrap her head around [it]. I taught them Illusion, they loved it. My dad texted me afterwards, what was the name of it? Because he was going to go out and buy it.
DTD: Wow. My dad told me flat out that Chess is the only game. That there is no other game. End of story. You cannot convince me otherwise. And I’ve tried teaching them a bunch of games, and just nothing has really stuck. It’s tough. And they always want to know; there’s that interest there.
EH: Illusion hooked my 80-year-old parents.
DTD: I ought to try that one, I’ve got it sitting on the shelf. It is fascinating. It’s frustrating, because it, it teaches me exactly how bad I am at recognizing quantities by vision. It’s basically keyed right into what the human brain is bad at. Which is delightful.
EH: Yeah, exactly.
DTD: Well, I will tell you a game that blew me away. There is a Japanese trick-taking game called Scout. And it fascinated me no end. It is a shedding, trick taking game like Tichu. Where you need to put down a form, like you put down a pair, and then people have put down a better pair, and things like that. You can only lay down cards in your hand, if they are adjacent to each other in your hand. And you are not allowed to reorder your hand.
DTD: This is my new favorite mechanism, is “don’t reorder your hand.”
EH: That was Bohnanza.
Bohnanza is one of Uwe Rosenberg’s first and finest games.
Someone should interview that guy.
DTD: It was! And it kinda went silent since Bohnanza.
DTD: And now, I’ve played like 4 games in the past month that use this, and use it well.
EH: It’s a little fad. OK.
DTD: Wind the Film is delightful. And in it you don’t re-order your hand.
EH: I’ve heard of Wind the Film.
Also, Krass Kariert (Dealt!). No reordering of hands.
DTD: And Scout. Scout. So, you play something out of your hand. Say I play a pair. The next person has to play something better. Either a better pair, or say 3 of a kind, or a run of 3. Something better. If they cannot then they steal one card from your pair that you put down. So there’s one active set of cards on the table that you’re trying to beat. And if you cannot beat it, you steal from that active set one card, and put it in your hand, anywhere you want.
EH: And then that set is easier to beat.
DTD: And then that set is easier to beat! If it goes all the way around the table, then the person who played the set wins the trick.
DTD: So. Alright, are you ready for the kicker?
EH: Oh, OK.
DTD: Oh, there’s a kicker. The cards have a value here in this corner, and a different value here in this corner. So, if you hold it vertically in your hand it’s a different card that if you hold it… This way. Does that make sense?
DTD: It might be a 5 like this, but a two like that.
Just imagine me rotating a playing card 180 degrees while I say this. Depending if the card is right side up or upside down, there are two different values.
DTD: So, when you take a new card, you have two choices about how to put it in your hand.
EH: You choose how to put it in your hand?
DTD: And anywhere in your hand. And that’s your only real agency and choice, because otherwise you have to play cards that are next to each other.
EH: [laughing a lot]
DTD: I’m telling you, this is… If you like trick taking games, this is the best trick taking game I’ve ever played.
Best trick taking game ever. The Crew is close.
EH: I do. Wow, OK. I do love trick taking games.
DTD: So, I was just going to point out that this is in fact, is the most important accessory for an Ethiopian meal. [holding up paper towel roll]
DTD: An entire roll of paper towels.
EH: Does your restaurant bring you the little wet naps at the end of the meal?
DTD: They do, they do. And your hands are bright orange. My wife actually refers to a lot of the dishes, like the chicken tibbs as “highlighter chicken”. Because it just makes you bright yellow. I totally forgot. I got myself some nice Ethiopian coffee to go with it, and now it’s cold.
There’s something to be said for eating incredibly brightly colored food with your hands.
EH: Oh wow. It is much too late here to be drinking coffee. But you go for it.
DTD: I’m early, it’s 5:30. So are you, are you feeling like you’ve been on the interview circuit? I looked on your web page, and I was blown away by how many interviews and things that you’ve done.
I recommend checking out Elizabeth Hargrave’s website. It is a true fount of board game designers and information. And it lists the truly boggling number of interviews she has done. I feel lucky to be among them.
EH: I know.
DTD: I feel like I’m coming late to the party.
EH: I feel like I should get more selective, but then people come to me and they’re like, “Will you…do an interview for this thing? And we are in Chile…and people in Chile would really like to hear from you…” And I’m like, “OK….”
DTD: Quick, look up Chilean birds. No, you had your chance, and you said that you would do a dinner with me, so you know…so, you said a couple times “the next Wingspan expansion that you’re working on.” Any hints on where you’re going next? Is it South America?
The Andean Condor is the national bird of Chile. Random fact #637.
EH: We’re not saying yet.
DTD: OK, I didn’t think you would.
It was worth a try.
DTD: I can always ask.
EH: The artists have started working on the birds, though!
DTD: Oh, that’s so exciting. That’s really cool.
EH: It is. It’s fun.
DTD: So, I’m always curious; when the artists are working on the birds, do they have instructions on, “You need to make this many that are facing left, and you need to make this many that are facing right, and you need to make this many that are…” Or do they just have free reign to draw birds?
Wingspan has many end game scoring tiles that depend on bird names, nests, colors, and even which direction they are facing.
EH: [laughs] They have pretty free reign. I’ve told them when they’re… When a bird is very different from male to female, like pick the showier one. Things like that.
DTD: Pick the pretty one.
EH: Which is usually the male. But not always.
DTD: No. Sometimes they look absolutely identical.
Note the superb starling (Lamprotornis superbus). Poster child for attractive female birds. Some would say “superb”.
EH: And what else…? They like to do the birds in flight, and we’ve sort of set this trend that all the cover birds are in flight. But it’s a lot more work to do birds in flight, because they have a lot more feathers showing.
EH: So that’s a trade-off that I know they make. A lot of it is based on… They work from reference photos, so they spend a lot of time looking for reference photos, and then getting permission from the photographers to use them as reference photos. So partly, it’s like what can they get? You know, for the common birds they have lots of options, but for some species it’s…I guess we are doing this pose!
DTD: One person’s is common bird is another person’s persons weird bird. I guess it’s where the artists are living as well. So, it seems that from the end-game points in Wingspan, that there is a lot of math in there. You should have about an equal number of birds that have this quality, or that quality, or this one or that one.
EH: Yeah, for the for the end of round bonuses, I don’t…I don’t worry so much about having it be consistent from box to box, from deck to deck, because everyone sort of has the same odds for any given bonus.
DTD: Every player has the same odds for that particular bonus. Yeah, that’s a good point.
EH: For the bonus cards, I do worry about it, because if you get a bonus card, and the points on it are specifically set up based on how common that thing is in the deck… Then you, personally, are the only one harmed, if that thing becomes drastically less common in the deck, right? So, those I worry about a lot more, and it has created quite a puzzle for putting the decks together, because it’s a lot of different parameters.
DTD: That seems really difficult.
EH: Yeah, yeah, so there’s a whole big spreadsheet, where I have to, for every bird under consideration, have little check marks to get me through this one and not this one.
DTD: I can only imagine the math on it. What kind of nest do I have to give this bird?
EH: No, that’s the thing, is that all the information is fixed for the birds. I mean I can play with the food a little bit. There’s some wiggle room.
DTD: And I’ve seen raging debates about the food online. Again, your your social community is really fun to watch.
EH: [laughs] But most of the things on the cards are just like, they are true things. It would be much easier to design a deck if I could just say, “OK, I need three of this and five of this.” Just make up these creatures with all the right characteristics.
DTD: It will have carnivorous hummingbirds. One of one of the great things I did, is I have a little koi pond out back, and I set up a GoPro camera just to watch the birds come and bathe in these little waterfalls that I have. And apparently I have a whole set of Queen Anne’s hummingbirds who love my waterfall.
EH: Oh cool.
DTD: And they have that bright, bright pink front, and they flare it, and they show off.
EH: In general, yeah. They’re beautiful.
DTD: And they are mean little birds, man!
EH: They’re very territorial.
DTD: Oh, hummingbirds are evil. So I walk out to get my camera, and this little, you know, ‘this high’ [I guestured face height] bird comes over and <buzz buzz buzz>. It’s very mad at me for going in his space. But I got great pictures.
Hummingbirds can fly quickly forward then reverse and ‘buzz’ their wings making that eponymous humming noise, but they do it aggressively at you. Very tiny creatures with very large attitudes.
EH: Oh, at you? Wow, I’ve only seen them fight with each other. I’ve never had them actually come after me.
DTD: They chase away bees. They get really mad at bees and wasps, and try to chase them off. But they will come tell me what for. And then, they know that I’m much, much slower than them, so they have no problem at all being aggressive.
EH: This summer, we had a couple hummingbirds that were clearly fighting over our yard, that just kept chasing each other. Pretty fun to watch. Good show.
DTD: I was given a rescue hummingbird when I was working as a veterinarian. Someone came in with a box and said, “He’s hurt.”
EH: What? Oh my gosh.
DTD: And I was…oh, it was devastating. I was calling every resource that I know. And they’re so fragile. My options were, I can feed it every 15 minutes around the clock, and really not be able to fix it. Or I can just see how it does, and it was, it was tough. Those are…not in my ballpark. I was used to the big nasty birds that you can’t touch, because they’ll take your arms off.
DTD: So, this little…measuring, you know, I think it was just a few grams. It was ridiculously small. Weighed nothing.
EH: Yeah, I think they are all fluff.
DTD: They are, they are.
Come back next time for final injera injected installment of Ethiopian with Elizabeth, Wingspan with Wot, Tussie Mussie with Tibbs. In our sixth and final segment, we talk birds, birds and more birds. Honestly, late night coffee just gets me rambling endlessly about ornithology, bird medicine and birdly board games.