And so we unfortunately come to the final part of dinner with Phil Walker-Harding, Sushi master, Gizmologist, and Bärentrainer. Today we bounce around the subject of newer games, roll-and-writes, and legacy-style games.
DTD: Yeah, that’s fantastic. Tell me about Fjords, that’s one of the newest that I know about.
PWH: So, Grail Games, which my brother David runs.
DTD: Oh, that’s right!
PWH: Yeah, yeah, that that’s my brother David [Harding]. He has kind of been on this really good little streak of reprinting some older designs so. So, when we first go into games, we played a lot of those older Knizia titles, and things like that. So, it’s been really cool that he’s been able to reprint them. But yeah, Fjords is a game that was one of the first I played when I got back into the hobby. It would have been new. And you know, I liked it, and really thought it had this cool classic two-player abstract vibe. But even then I remember thinking, “I wonder why this isn’t multiplayer?” It seemed like a cool enough, like the tile laying in that is really, really good. And I thought, “Oh, I wonder why this is a two-player only game,” and that question is just kind of been in my head. Yeah anyway, when David got the rights to Fjords and decided he was going to reprint it, he sort of said, “Oh, do you want to design some extra content for it?” And the first thing I said was like, “Well, we have to go three to four players!” Like, that was just my natural kind of inclination.
DTD: So, was this the first time you worked with your brother as a publisher?
PWH: Sort of. So, like you know, we playtest each other’s stuff.
PWH: Some of his, the stuff Grail’s put out, you know I’ve been involved with. But this I guess was the first, you know, fully like in-depth relationship.
PWH: Yeah, yeah so, I decided to take on the challenge of like, “OK, can I turn this into three or four player game? And can I add some other little modules or things for expansion content?” Turns out it’s much harder than you might imagine to turn an incredibly honed two player game into a multiplayer.
There was a reason that it hadn’t been done already.
PWH: I think the result works well and I’m really happy with how it plays. However, I think it is different. You know you just can’t reproduce the feeling of a tight 2-player game. Like, as soon as you go to three players, you’re introducing chaos. You’re introducing all sorts of new uncertainties, and it feels like a different thing, but it still feels like Fjords, I hope.
DTD: Well, I still hold a lot of my old Grail games very, very close. I respect the company and everything they’ve put out. It’s just been quality. Yeah, I backed Fjords. I’m ready for it.
The Kickstarter campaign for Fjords successfully funded in April, 2021 with AU$234,693 from 3656 backers.
PWH: Oh, well, I hope you like it.
DTD: Honestly, I didn’t play the older one. I read up on it, and decided it was for me.
PWH: Yeah, yeah, it’s very much of its time, the original Fjords. So yeah, I’m really glad it’s coming back, just so people get to play the original as well.
DTD: Oh sure, I get excited whenever one of the older games gets redone, and then gets a little bit of love and care. And Glen More II when it showed back up, was… just made my day. That was delightful.
PWH: Yep, Yep.
DTD: And so, Fjords has that feeling as well.
PWH: Yeah, yeah, Glen More is cool, yeah.
DTD: Yeah, that’s fantastic. So, what are your thoughts on the roll-and-write bandwagon now? Is that something that you’re digging into a little more? Have I opened another door to something that you did? “[sarcastically] Let me tell you about this…”
PWH: Well. I mean, I really enjoyed… I think like everyone, I’m a little… I’ve played a lot of them now.
PWH: But I’ve loved that trend, and I guess I see Silver and Gold as my entry into that. That’s sort of how I view that game. So it doesn’t have dice, and it doesn’t have a pad of paper…
DTD: But it has pens.
PWH: I think it’s like you’re playing a roll and write. Essentially.
DTD: Yeah, Silver and Gold was delightful. I picked it up in in German when it came out.
In Silver and Gold, players mark off island spaces on their cards, finding treasure.
PWH: Oh yeah, yeah. Well that that kind of came from, to a degree, playing a lot of roll and writes, and thinking about those. The kind of really quick playing dynamic you get from just rolling and writing, rolling and writing.
DTD: Oh yeah, it’s delightful, and I think it’s started a trend of writing on the cards now. We’ve got Everything on One Card that’s just coming out.
Alles auf 1 Karte (Everything on One Card) from Steffen Benndorf is another roll-and-write type card with dry erase cards. Players roll dice with geometric shapes, then mark off spaces on their cards, trying to complete rows.
PWH: Oh yeah, I saw that. Yeah, yeah.
DTD: And they’re fun. Everybody wants to doodle on things you’re not supposed to draw on. It brings back that childhood memory of doing evil things. That’s wonderful.
PWH: Yeah, it was weird. That came about… It was one of those design decisions to write on the card. It almost just felt like… It was almost like “Well, I either need to include 80 tiny cubes in this game, or there has to be another way to do it.”
PWH: So, for whatever reason, it just, “Oh, obviously, you just write on the card.”
DTD: Was there a big barrier there trying to get cards made in some material that dry erase markers did fine on, or did someone just say “Yeah, we can do that.”
PWH: Yeah, the publisher wasn’t at all concerned. I think a lot of laminate finishes are already dry erase-able, essentially.
All games are technically legacy if you have a sharpie and enough determination.
DTD: They are just ready for it.
PWH: So just getting laminated, like laminate-cards, is all you really need to do. So no, that that wasn’t too bad.
DTD: I have to tell you, I’m embarrassed to say it, but I got a bunch of your games all at about the same time, and all in Germany. So, I had Bärenpark and I had Silver and Gold, and I thought, “Boy, who is this new German game designer? This is fantastic.” It was years before I saw, “Oooh…”
PWH: Well, I’m flattered that you might think I’m a German game designer.
Phil is from “southern” Germany. Very southern. OK, Australia.
DTD: That was exciting, and you know, Bärenpark. You know it’s a pretty German-looking title.
PWH: Definitely, yeah.
DTD: That one is fantastic as well. Just the little bits of humor, in there and the little bits all throughout Bärenpark are just delightful.
PWH: Yeah, Lookout, Klemens [Franz] over at Lookout [Games] is, has own style, and you know it’s his game.
Klemens Franz is the look and feel of classic euro games, having leant his art to over 300 games, including Agricola, Le Havre, Orleans, Luna, Lorenzo il Magnifico, and many more. Additionally, Klemens helps with design and graphic layout, giving a distinct feel to all of his games.
DTD: Klemens Franz?
PWH: Yeah, you know it’s his game and he always puts in cute little fun things.
DTD: Oh, I love the little stories. I’m hoping to actually do a dinner with Klemens sometime soon. And I’ve been emailing him a little bit. He’s just delightful.
PWH: Yeah, he’s a fun guy.
DTD: And his art; There’s something just characteristic about it that you look at it and go, “Oh yeah, that’s a Euro. I recognize that.” Oh, that’s fantastic. Is there more coming for Bärenpark?
PWH: No, so… Yeah, we haven’t talked about a second expansion, and I think that’s partly because every possible idea I had is in the first expansion [laughs].
DTD: You’ve run out of bears.
PWH: However, I do have a have another game coming out soon-ish from Lookout, which I sort of see as the, in a way, the kind of third part in the trilogy of Bärenpark, Gingerbread House.
The referenced game is of course, Llamaland. Players lay tiles, including vertically, building up mountains to farm potatoes, cocoa and corn. Higher mountains earn more llamas!
PWH: In that it’s another tile laying kind of thing. It sort of is, yeah, it’s closer to Bärenpark than Gingerbread House was, but it will sort of scratch that itch, in a way.
DTD: How wonderful. Well, I mean, every time you’re coming out with another one, I’m excited to see it. It’s always delightful. So, what are your favorite games for playing right now?
PWH: Sorry, can you repeat that?
DTD: What are your favorite games right now for just playing?
PWH: Just playing? Well I’ve recently played through all of My City.
My City is a legacy style tile laying game by Reiner Knizia, nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2020. Each game of My City only lasts 30 minutes or so, but is part of a greater campaign of 24 games.
DTD: Oh yeah.
PWH: Reiner Knizia legacy, that was lots of fun.
DTD: That was a good one. I nearly played through all of that in one sitting. It just, it was pandemic at just the right time, and my wife was interested, and we just we just plowed through nearly all of it at once.
PWH: Oh wow. I think he, he captured something there which I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes more of a thing, which is like “quick legacy games.”
PWH: The idea that part of the real fun of the legacy game is opening the new content, and if you get to do that every 20 minutes, instead of every 90 minutes.
DTD: It’s great.
PWH: It’s great. Yeah, I think that was what was super fun about that. What else have I played? As I said, Nidavellir, I recently played and liked.
Nidavellir is an auction game, where the 5 tokens you bid with are built up with a deck building mechanic.
PWH: Arnak is a cool heavier game. For me, anyway, I’ve been enjoying.
DTD: And Nidavellir has an expansion now.
PWH: Yeah, I haven’t played that. Have you played it?
DTD: I own it, but I have not played it yet. It’s still sitting in its little box. I just got it recently. It was difficult to get a hold of Nidavellir for a while. It was a French publisher. It was GRRRE. I don’t know how to pronounce that.
GRRRE is described as “a very strong growl which is going to wake up the bear inside you during games.” It likely also has to do with being created by Céline and Florian GRenier in GRenoble, France.
PWH: Yeah, my brother. I think imported it. It’s… I don’t think you can get it here yet. But he ordered a copy.
DTD: Yeah, I imported recently The Crew 2 and started playing through. And there’s just been such innovation recently. Like MicroMacro is a such a unique weird thing, and it’s doing well. I’m glad to see that.
Micromacro: Crime City by Johannes Sich, variously described as Where’s Waldo with MURDER, is a strong contender for the Spiel des Jahres in 2021.
PWH: Yeah, I really wanted to try that, yeah? Apparently I was reading about that and apparently it’s already a massive, massive hit in Germany.
DTD: I believe it.
PWH: Part of that is I think, it’s the ultimate lock-down game, in a way, isn’t it? Like you just sit at a table with a big map and maybe one other person.
DTD: Yeah, it’s a giant poster, you can sit and plow through it over and over and over. There’s so much shoved into that weird little, well big, poster. And the sequel’s announced now. So, they’re riding it, they know it’s big. It’s my prediction for the spiel, I think. I think it’s a shoo in.
PWH: Yeah, I think so too.
DTD: But I think we’re getting more of these light, different kind of components. That one. Cantaloop kind of reminds me of that. It has strange, lighter components and hits it from a different angle. It’s a great time to, well, at least for me, it’s a great time for playing them. Well, was there anything else that you wanted to talk about that’s coming up from the world of Phil Walker Harding.
Cantaloop by designer Friedemann Findeisen has been described as an old LucasArts adventure game in a book.
PWH: No, I think we’ve just naturally covered it all.
DTD: It’s well, I apologize in advance for my bizarre non-interview style of just, you know… I’m not good at what I do, and I come in completely unprepared.
PWH: No, no, I prefer it feeling more like a real chat.
DTD: That’s what I always want to do is just, you know, go out to eat and just chat and see what’s new, and see what’s exciting, and have fun with it. And the pandemic is just a bit terrible for that.
PWH: I agree.
DTD: But I super appreciate you making the time. This is, this is fun. It just makes me anxious to go to conventions, and someday be able to thank you in person.
PWH: That would be good, yeah.
DTD: Absolutely. Well, have a wonderful rest of the Monday. And I will do my terrible joke of “How’s the future looking?” As I’m sitting in Sunday night.
I tried so hard to not make this joke. Yes, it was Monday in Australia, Sunday in California.
PWH: Thanks for staying up late.
DTD: No, no, it’s really no problem at all. I’m eccentric and retired, and this is what I like to do.
DTD: So, thank you again and I’m looking forward to what’s coming next. This has been delightful. It’s really been a pleasure of mine, just to be able to say “Hey.”
PWH: Oh, it’s been lovely chatting to you too.
DTD: Absolutely, Sir. Take care, have a good one.
PWH: OK, see you later. Have a good night.
I cannot thank Phil Walker-Harding enough for such a delightful visit. I realize we all must ask him the same questions over and over, and Phil truly took the time and put real thought into everything. Hopefully I get to travel back to the land down under one of these days and meet the master in person!