I have been fortunate enough to have dinner with Ryan Laukat, designer of Above and Below, Near and Far and many others, artist, publisher, owner of Red Raven Games. And the restaurant is magnificent – Log Haven, a little piece of woodland paradise in the canyons outside Salt Lake City, Utah. I have just met Ryan outside the building.

RL: Do we need the masks?

DTD: No. Nobody is wearing them except me. I brought them for other people’s comfort. If I didn’t say, I’m all vaccinated and everything.

It’s amazing how similarly conversations start in this day and age.

RL: Yeah, sounds good. Me, too.

DTD: And I’ve been pretty paranoid about it.

RL: Oh yeah, makes sense.

DTD: Cool, well, let’s head on in. So, I hope this didn’t take too much time away.

RL: Oh no, it’s great.

Host: Alright, so you are all here. If you want, just go back in there and have a seat. I’ll get right with you.

DTD: Cool, so you’ve been here before?

RL: Maybe 3 times, I think.

DTD: Wow. I was just wandering around the grounds, and it is gorgeous.

RL: Yeah.

DTD: Wandering the waterfalls, and everything like that.

Outside of the Log Cabin it is a verdant wood in the mountains, with waterfalls and waterwheels capturing the natural beauty.

RL: Yeah, Oh yeah. It’s been a few years since I’ve been here. But, oh man. It’s amazing. Actually, I remember when I was a kid, my dad, he was a musician, he played gigs. And I remember he played one here. It was like right in that corner, and I remember sitting like right behind him.

DTD: Oh, and you came, and you waited during the gig?

RL: Yeah, I just sat there and listened.

DTD: That’s awesome. What did he play?

RL: So, he plays saxophone and alt-woodwinds, and all that stuff. My parents actually own a company that manufactures musical instruments.

DTD: Wow.

RL: So yeah, trumpets, saxophones, all that kind of stuff.

DTD: Man, I might need to get a name from you. I was a prodigy music kid and did Baroque and Renaissance music.

I was really the ladies man. Nothing like recorder music to attract the opposite sex.

RL: Really?

DTD: Yeah, did some recordings when I was really little, but like with crumhorns, recorders, and all that stuff. And I fiddle with clarinet, bassoon and saxophone. And I’m terrible at them.

RL: Crazy. Well, that’s cool.

DTD: That must have been something else, though. Coming to places like this.

RL: Oh yeah. When I was like twelve, that’s when they started the business.

Host: And would you gentlemen like to sit inside or outside?

DTD: Do you have a preference?

Please pick outside. Please pick outside.

RL: No.

DTD: It doesn’t matter much to me. Quieter is nice, if you have an impression…

Host: It might be quieter outside, but it’s also incredibly delightful out there right now.

DTD: Well, I can’t pass up incredibly delightful. So that sounds like a winner.

All right….

Host: Alright, follow me please.

DTD: Thanks. Wow, it is delightful.

Host: Thank you.

DTD: It’s a lot less hot than I thought, just coming in from the city.

Host: Yeah, we are a way different climate. But yeah, it’s delightful. Alright, enjoy dinner.

DTD: Thank you, thank you. So, I guess you guys are having a record heat wave.

While I was in Utah, temperature records were being broken all over the Salt Lake City area. It was hot. Dinner was Monday.

RL: Oh man, it’s been nuts. A couple of days, it was like the hottest it’s ever been recorded.

DTD: That’s what I was hearing on the news and it’s strange ’cause it was this hot when I left California. And I come in, and it’s just as hot. And then we’re getting our record heat wave as soon as I get back. It’s going to be in the 110s.

When I left and went back to California, the heat wave did in fact follow me there.

RL: Oh my gosh.

DTD: So, thank you again for agreeing to my little piece of insanity.

RL: Oh, sure thing.

DTD: It’s really funny, because when I first came up with the idea, you were the first person I wrote. And this was 2 years ago, and the timing just never worked out.

RL: Oh man.

DTD: There were these pesky, you know, viruses and things around.

RL: Those pesky viruses.

DTD: I know. Hopefully, things are starting to get a little back to normal. I mean, this is actually the first face-to-face meal I’ve had in ages.

RL: Oh, wow. Crazy.

DTD: So, it’s very cool. Do you have any preferences on food or anything?

RL: I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable with that… We can wear masks if you want.

I met Ryan at the door in a mask to be polite. I don’t want to assume everyone is comfortable with a naked face.

DTD: No, no, no. I’m totally fine. I brought it just to put other people at ease, and if you’re cool, I’m cool.

RL: OK. I’m cool, yeah.

Waiter: Hello you two. welcome, how’s it going?

DTD: Thank you.

Waiter: You’re welcome. My name is Clayton, and I’ll be taking care of you tonight. Would you like anything besides water to drink at this moment?

RL: Can I have a Coke actually?

DTD: I’m good with water, thanks.

Waiter: Well, I’ll let you look at the menu for a second. Everything on the menu is as printed. Our market fish tonight is a Chilean seabass.

I think Clayton and I are going to get along just fine.

DTD: OK, cool. I was looking at the menu out at… They have a little lending library, down at the bottom of the hill, and they have the menu posted on there.

RL: Oh, I saw that.

DTD: So, I was kind of excited about some of the stranger things they’ve got. I don’t know how you feel about octopus, or tuna tartare, or things like that.

RL: Yeah, I have… Let’s see, last time I was here, I had swordfish. That was interesting.

DTD: Cool. It all looks great. I think I have forgotten how to order off a menu.

RL: It’s been a long time since you have…

DTD: It’s been a lot of Door Dash, yeah.

RL: We did not go inside a restaurant for a long time.

DTD: I believe it.

RL: So, the crazy thing is, last August, we drove to Virginia to see my wife’s sister. And her family. And we did not go inside any restaurant. We did not go inside any gas station. We did not go inside any hotel.

DTD: Did you just camp your way across?

RL: No, we stayed at Airbnb’s.

DTD: Wow, that’s nuts. And was it a decision to drive, because of pandemic and everything?

RL: It was kind of that, and we also wanted to take the kids. You know, we have 3 kids, and so…

DTD: That’s… I don’t know, that’s a brave drive.

RL: Oh, it was. If you asked me if I would do it again… I would not.

DTD: [laughs] I’m sure there were great parts.

RL: But it was cool, it was, it was cool. And my wife’s mom came too. So it was like a big adventure, you know. Yeah, it was crazy.

DTD: Wow. So, you had built in babysitters and everything.

RL: Yeah, it was fun though.

DTD: I have done that cross country drive more times than I can imagine.

RL: Oh really?

DTD: I was a coast hopper. I grew up in New Jersey, and then went to school in California, and then school again in Connecticut, and then school again in California. I just kept hopping back and forth.

Go Aggies! Go Handsome Dan!

RL: Wow.

DTD: But it’s been a while. I think I’m settled in now. I’ve done a couple driving trips out to GenCon, but that’s… That’s been about it for me.

RL: So, you drove to GenCon from California? Oh man, I considered doing that. On our way back we drove through Indianapolis.

I drove to GenCon from California in August 2016. Before the dark times.

DTD: Well, you’re 10 hours closer than I am. [laughs]

RL: Yeah, what I’m thinking is “Man. That’s like too long for me, even.” If I had to go from California, then that would be… But I guess it’s, you know, it’s kind of a fun experience.

DTD: It is. And I don’t mind the long drives. I just got… I just got a car that can drive itself, so it would be fun to play along with that.

RL: Oh, you got like the self-driving thing? Oh nice.

DTD: Yeah, and I tell you in the deserts in Nevada and in Utah, that’s easy. That was really nice.

RL: Yeah. It’s just straight…

DTD: Just go. I’ll watch the scenery. So, are you heading out to GenCon this year?

RL: Yeah, we have a booth this year.

DTD: Yeah, from what I hear, I think I might be working… One of the people working the Dice Tower booth.

If you would like to see me, I believe I will be working at the Arcane Wonders booth.

RL: Oh, nice.

DTD: It’s still in planning.

RL: Oh, is Dice Tower doing a booth?

DTD: I think it was a last minute decision. That’s the way it seems.

RL: Yeah. Well, it was kind of… We’ve been on the fence a lot. I’m still on the fence, honestly, but we kind of need to go.

DTD: I honestly don’t know what kind of GenCon it’s going to be. The one kind of statement announcement in there, that people or vendors are not allowed to release or demo anything that will form a line. It seems unenforceable.

RL: And that’s tough. Right. I was thinking that, too.

DTD: And that’s the whole thing about GenCon, is everything got released, everything was announced.

It used to be that everything was announced at GenCon. During the pandemic, companies have not been waiting for GenCon to announce their titles.

RL: Yeah, it kind of kills the whole point of the vendor hall.

DTD: I think that’s probably why Asmodee backed out. They kind of rely on everything coming out, and big huge lines forming.

Since this announcement, Asmodee and others have said they will not be attending GenCon.

RL: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I know so many people backed… so many big companies backed out. And actually they had extra space, so we actually took it. This is the first time ever, we’ve like been able to take a little extra space.

DTD: Did you go to the GAMA that was right before pandemic hit?

The GAMA Expo is a private trade show for the board game industry. The last GAMA to occur was March 7-12, 2020 in Reno, Nevada. Right when COVID really started changing the world. The next is scheduled for March 14, 2022.

RL: No, I decided not to.

DTD: It had, it had that weird feeling. Everybody left, and people started bargaining and trading for bigger and bigger booth spots.

RL: [laughs] Oh my God.

DTD: It was bizarre, because every day and you’d hear about another group of 5 or 10 people leaving. Because this was before anybody… It was right when everything hit.

RL: Right, it was like a week before everything closed, everything shut down.

DTD: Yeah, it was very strange. But hearing about getting bigger booths, and jockeying for position, just reminds me of that.

RL: Oh yeah.

DTD: I mean, if they want to keep the numbers down for GenCon, it kind of helps that some of the big players aren’t coming, but I still, just honestly, don’t know what it’s gonna be like.

RL: Yeah.

DTD: So, what do you think about appetizers? Are you up for octopus or is that not your thing?

RL: Sure, I’ll try it. I can’t guarantee I’ll eat a lot of it.

DTD: Don’t even worry about that.

RL: Why don’t you just pick whetever you like.

DTD: Are you sure? I literally have never had any food I don’t like.

It’s true. I don’t love apples, but I can eat them. Waste of fruit, really. Maybe as a doctor, they keep me away…

RL: [laughs] That’s lucky.

Waiter: Have you two had a chance to look things over? Like to start with some appetizers or anything?

DTD: Yeah, I’d love to try the grilled octopus. Did anything else catch your eye, or…?

RL: That sounds good.

DTD: Yeah, we’ll start with that.

Waiter: Yeah, if you’ve had a chance to look over entrees, I can order those in as well. If not, feel free to take your time.

DTD: I looked at them outside. Have you gotten a chance to peek?

RL: Why don’t you start. I think I can pick one pretty quick here.

DTD: I think the market fish sounds great. You said that was Sea Bass?

Waiter: It is. Yep.

DTD: Everything else around it just sounds wonderful. I’m growing shishitos in my yard this year, so I gotta see what you do with them.

Waiter: Oh, nice. Are you familiar with the “shishito roulette”, where most shishitos are pretty mild, but every now and then you’ll get one that’s like…

DTD: Yes! It’s about one in 10 will really hurt you badly. [laughs]

Waiter: Exactly.

I do love Clayton the waiter. He just gets me.

RL: Can I have the grilled salmon? Thank you.

Waiter: Let me get this out of the way.

DTD: That sounds awesome. Oh man it’s just cool being in a restaurant again, or near one.

RL: Right. I’ve never been out here before. This is like, this is stunning.

DTD: It is! And it’s so nice and cool. I can’t get over how just a little tiny drive into the hills, and all of a sudden most of that heat is just gone.

RL: I’m actually shocked. Like, I thought I was gonna be roasting up here. It’s crazy.

DTD: Yeah, this is delightful, he was right.

RL: Right, have you been to the any of the other canyons out here?

DTD: No, this is my first time in Salt Lake City. I’ve driven through it a ton of times because every time I do one of these cross-country trips, it’s always I-80 all the way across.

RL: Oh yeah.

DTD: So, Salt Lake is, you know, the last big city. You know, hit a gas station before you go through the salt flats.

RL: Oh yeah, right. So, the canyons, the two Canyons south of here, are amazing. I mean, those are the best ones. Like when you drive up this one, it’s pretty, but the next one south… I’m trying to think. Yeah, the next one south, it’s called Big Cottonwood Canyon, and it’s like amazing. I mean, the rock is just huge, it’s like giant cliffs. It’s amazing up there.

DTD: Well, I was blown away just driving in this one. I guess I took them in the right order.

Log Haven Restaurant is located outside of town in Mill Creek Canyon, within a state park. The drive up is magnificent.

RL: Yeah, if you do have time, the next one south is like really amazing.

DTD: Wow, I might do that tomorrow. Cool. So, have you been in Salt Lake City area for a long time then?

RL: Yeah, I grew up here. So, pretty much my whole life.

DTD: That’s very cool. Yeah, I don’t know too much about it at all. It’s a gorgeous city. I mean, it’s a lot cleaner and well, better done than most cities that I’ve been through, I’ll be honest.

RL: It’s nice and clean. Yeah, it’s like, the population is exploding right now. So housing is super expensive.

DTD: I hear a lot of people moving in. I can see why.

RL: It’s nice, but yeah, it’s getting crowded for sure. [laughs] Yeah, and my wife grew up here too. We met in high school, actually.

DTD: Wow.

RL: We both play trumpet, and so we are both musicians, so that’s how that worked out.

DTD: That’s awesome, wow.

RL: So, do you do you still do the music thing at all, or is that kind of a childhood thing?

DTD: I didn’t do it for a while during school, during college. And then I really felt it was missing, and I started picking up just random instruments, and learning to play them.

RL: Oh yeah.

DTD: So, my instrument now that I’m just fascinated with is banjo.

RL: Oh nice.

DTD: So, I’ve been I’ve been playing bluegrass banjo. And I’m really bad at it.

RL: [laughs] Oh, I’m sure that’s not true.

Completely true.

DTD: But I went through some… I could play a million things really badly. And actually, for banjo, I think being able to read music and knowing theory and everything like that, is actually a detriment.

RL: Oh, for the banjo?

DTD: Yeah, it’s yeah. So, you guys are still playing?

RL: I play, not as much as I want to. I mean, now. So Mallory plays piano. And she actually wrote a… She writes music.

DTD: I noticed on the on the video for Now Or Never.

RL: Oh yeah, Yep. She did all that.

The background music on the Now or Never trailer videos is all written and performed by Mallory.

DTD: And it’s… I gotta tell you. I’m not thrilled that you design the games, do the art and do the publishing. But knowing that you’re a musician as well…

RL: [laughs]

DTD: I’m starting to really dislike you. I just have to put that right out there.

RL: Yeah, fair enough.

DTD: So, next you’re going to tell me about inventions, and you know doing biomedical research, and you know you cloned something in the backyard…

RL: Cloned something in the backyard, yeah… [laughs]

Come back next time when Ryan discusses the chicken or the egg question – art or games first? Plus the role of art in Ryan’s game design process. And Clayton brings us octopus!

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