Welcome back to dinner with the Remarkable Red Raven Resident Renaissance Raconteur, Ryan Lauket. We are having a lovely meal at Log Haven in Salt Lake City, Utah, and conversation has turned towards … well, new games.
RL: Oh wow. It’s hard for me to keep up on new releases these days.
DTD: Ah, that’s my job.
RL: Oh, right, of course! I remember like 10 years ago, I felt like I knew everything that was coming out. Not everything, but anything that would even remotely interest me. And now like it’s just this sea of games that I’m swimming through.
DTD: There’s so many of them. And if… I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re probably spending so much time playing and playtesting your own designs, and there’s only a limited amount of time.
RL: Yeah, that’s true. That’s right.
DTD: Are there any new games out there that you have played that you thought were pretty cool, pretty interesting?
RL: Let’s see….
DTD: I know, Risk.
RL: Risk, right. It’s funny though… I have, and I’m trying to think specifically of recent examples. Man, it is tough, because it feels like sometimes all we play is my stuff, my designs. And actually, lately we’re playing a lot of D&D. Because my kids like it, so that’s what we play when we play tabletop games.
DTD: Oh, cool. That’s awesome.
RL: But I did play Hallertau, and I liked it a lot.
DTD: I really enjoyed Hallertau. It felt like a more elegant implementation. I don’t know if that’s the right way to put it. But it seems like Uwe [Rosenberg]’s games have been doing kind of the same thing, but integrating the “feed your people” and the more maintenance things… Integrating it more into the physicality end of the game.
Hallertau does have the classic Uwe Rosenberg formula of grow resources, collect resources, spend resources (feed your people). But the spending is done by sliding cardboard pieces along tracks, making it very intuitive.
RL: Yeah, more integrated. You’re right.
DTD: So, Feast for Odin made it into a little polyomino game. And now Hallertau, it’s just purely embedded in the moving of the pieces. And I thought that plus the ability to play cards anytime you want just made the game smooth. It just made it work.
RL: Right, so I remember playing, to play the cards at any time, was my absolute favorite thing about it. And it felt like the type of thing I would want to do.
DTD: It’s liberating, yeah.
In Hallertau, there are quite a few decks of cards, and you can play cards at any time at all.
RL: I love that kind of mechanic. And that, for me, that really stands out in that game. I pretty much love most of Uwe’s work. I love all of his games.
DTD: I think I’ve got all of his stuff. And that’s saying a lot, because he started with some weird little card games nobody’s heard of.
RL: Yeah well, I even love Bohnanza, I mean…
DTD: Bonanza is the best. It is so good. It is still his number one selling game, both in numbers and money.
RL: Is it? Really? Oh wow, that should say something.
DTD: I asked him about that not that long ago, because he did a dinner with me at Essen, which was… That was so surreal.
RL: Yeah, I mean I would say…
At this point, my face turned red and I coughed a bit.
DTD: I found that that Russian roulette pepper. Whew! The last one.
Shishito Peppers can vary tremendously in their heat, earning the nickname of Russian Roulette Pepper. At least Clayton the waiter had warned me.
RL: Oh. That super-hot one. Ah, it’s funny like some of them are not hot, but…
DTD: Every once in a while, one of them is brutal. And it was that last one. I’m sorry I interrupted you.
RL: Oh, you’re good. I mean, he’s probably… He’s [Uwe Rosenberg] probably more influential on my designs than any other designer, I would say. I love how straightforward his games are, but how thematic they are. I think they’re often about farming, yes, but they’re so thematic. Like, everything makes total thematic sense in the game.
DTD: They’re intuitive.
RL: They’re very intuitive.
DTD: You could kinda… I almost never have to go back to his rule books, if I haven’t played in a while.
RL: Right. I mean, the types of euro games that I have not… I’ve kind of gotten a little cold on, are maybe the heavier eurogames, that have too many abstractions. Where it’s just like, they name something, but it’s it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t really match that thing, it’s just a big puzzle that’s very complex. It has a lot of moving parts, but it’s not really thematic.
DTD: Yeah, frustrating in the process, satisfying to solve. But completely non-intuitive.
RL: Right, and I know there’s like a big audience for that kind of game, but I haven’t found too many games like that that I like. Now [Reiner] Knizia’s games don’t always match their theme super well, but I love how clean they are.
DTD: They’ve got a mathematical exactness to them, and then he’ll do 15 versions of them.
RL: [laughs] Yeah, that’s true.
DTD: Yeah, and the last time I checked, there were about 700 titles he had on BGG. It blew me away.
639 credited titles as of August, 2021. Interestingly, designers in BGG are numbered sequentially starting with 1. Reiner Knizia is designer number 2. Uwe Rosenberg is number 10. Designer number one is Karl-Heinz Schmiel, the designer of Die Macher. Which also appears to be the first game entered into BGG.
RL: That is amazing. I can’t even believe that. There’s no way I could keep my designs straight if I did that. You would totally forget the game. I can’t even keep what I have straight. [laughs]
DTD: I should start just asking you detailed questions about games you did, you know, ten years ago. So, Red Raven‘s also been doing games from other designers.
RL: Oh, yeah.
DTD: Is that a continuing regular thing, or was it exceptions all the time? Or are you posturing yourself to be a publishing house for other people stuff?
RL: It’s more of a… It’s kind of a side thing to be honest. Really, the main…
Clayton, satisfied that we are weakened and logey, clears the plates and prepares for the killing blow…
Waiter: Are you interested in hearing about dessert tonight?
DTD: I am.
It’s hard to appreciate in written text, but there was no hesitation on my part. None.
Waiter: So, we have a couple different options. We’ve got a frozen coconut banana souffle. Almost like soft serve ice cream texture. Some toasted coconut flakes on the outside, Pineapple Glaze on the bottom. We have a white chocolate brioche bread pudding, some dark chocolate and crème anglaise. We have a cherry fruit crisp, served warm like a cobbler, with vanilla ice cream on top. And then we have a vanilla Panna Cotta with macerated berries.
RL: Can I have the first thing you mentioned, the banana souffle?
DTD: I’ll try the bread pudding. Awesome. Panna Cotta – wow.
Panna Cotta is like an italian cream jell-o. Actually, it is quite a bit better than that explaination.
RL: Yeah, that sounded good. That was the chocolate bread pudding that you ordered? Oh my gosh, yeah. I love chocolate, but my body doesn’t. So, it hurts my stomach a little bit, so…
DTD: Yeah, I get it.
RL: But I eat it anyway, but this time I decided not to.
DTD: Well, sure.
RL: No, honestly the focus is really on stuff I design. I’m kind of selfish. I started the company to publish my own stuff, but occasionally we’ll dabble a little with…
DTD: But you get very used to what kind of game you make, and how it looks, and how it feels. And bringing someone else in, you either have to allow them to do whatever they want. Or you need to completely change it to the way your stuff is.
RL: Yeah, I mean it’s a, it’s a different type of production. You know, more collaborative for sure. And that’s been fun, too.
DTD: Well, couple of them have been Alf Seegart, right?
RL: Yep, yep. Two by Alf Seegart.
DTD: I was going to say the majority of them, but…
RL: We have another one coming from T Alex Davis.
Ryan is referring to Deep Vents, which was released on August 5, 2021.
DTD: Oh, OK. He did World’s Fair, right?
J Alex Kevern did Worlds Fair 1893. I knew I was wrong as soon as I said it.
RL: No, he actually… That may be another person you’re thinking of.
I was off by 10 letters…
DTD: OK, my brain is misfiring.
DTD: Oh, I have that!
RL: And then, he’s designed… It’s like a… So, we did a Kickstarter for it, actually, in December. But we cancelled it. It wasn’t quite right.
DTD: What was the title?
RL: It was Rift Knights.
Ryan has a thing about Rifts.
DTD: Oh yeah. Totally.
RL: But we’re actually changing the title, and we have gone back to the drawing board and changed some things about it. So, it has like… I’ve written a campaign for it.
DTD: Oh wow.
RL: So now, it’s his game, with the same thing in it, but it also has a campaign storybook element for it. So, anyway…
DTD: That’s awesome.
RL: And then, we have one more after that. Small game by another designer. But other than that, we’re mostly… I have so many… The problem is, I have all these ideas. And I feel like I can never make them; there’s so many.
DTD: Well, it means you’re always going to have something to do.
RL: Yeah, it’s true.
DTD: It’s so it’s nice to not have a block. Have a time where you’re just waiting for that next idea. So, how many games do you usually have on the burners at once? I know that’s a weird way to say it, but I’m assuming you don’t start one, go all the way through till it’s done, and then start the next one.
RL: That’s like my preferred way, but it’s not how we do everything. I mean, it’s like… Right now, we have, let’s see… Right now we only have, we have like 3 on the burner now.
DTD: OK, cool.
RL: And what was hard about Sleeping Gods, is that it took so much time.
DTD: It was huge!
RL: That halfway through development, I would come up with other game ideas, and I would… I honestly couldn’t, I just had to throw them in the garbage. I couldn’t work them.
DTD: Just write them down, write them down.
RL: So, I would write them down in my little notebook, right? And it’s like, “OK, I’ll come back to this.” But I mean, after a few months, I’ve lost the spark.
DTD: So, was the Dungeons an extra idea that got put in?
RL: So, halfway through development, I came up with… I actually came up with the idea of making almost every location, like a dungeons-type of thing.
DTD: I would never finish it. You’re making Gloomhaven.
I still have not finished Gloomhaven. 68 games, 145 hours in. Admittedly, the pandemic got in the way… Maybe I just need to start over.
RL: [laughs] Yeah, I know. And after a while it was like, “No. No. That’s not working.”
DTD: I have not played with the Dungeons [expansion] yet. We took the “easy” route.
RL: No, I mean, I definitely recommend not playing it, your first campaign. There’s like plenty to do in that, just that first campaign.
DTD: So, Now or Never is essentially done in production now? I saw the pre-orders just came up a couple days ago.
RL: Yes. It’s like midway through production. So, this time, there are some benefits for doing preorders, right? So, like, you don’t have to wait as long to get your product, hopefully. Unless the whole shipping thing…
DTD: Keeps going the way it’s been going?
During the time of this interview, the cost on shipping containers has been skyrocketing, causing a crisis among game poublishers. Especially with Kickstarters, companies that estimate a shipping cost, may slam against a cost 10x what they anticipated when it is time to write the check a year later.
RL: It’s pretty bad. But, the idea was, instead of having to wait like a year, we wait till much later in the process, and then we open pre-orders. So yes, it’s much further along than we normally would have done.
DTD: Was it a conscious decision to not do Kickstarter on this one? I know it’s getting harder and harder.
Red Raven Games has done Kickstarters for most of their games in the past, but Now or Never used their own web based pre-order system.
RL: Yes, Yeah, to be honest, I’m a little bit burned out on Kickstarter. I love Kickstarter. I love the backers. I love that… We would not exist without Kickstarter.
DTD: Sure. But the internet brings out the best in people.
RL: I wanted to try it this time and see how it goes.
DTD: I’m kind of surprised more companies haven’t. It seems like an easier route, if you know what you’re doing, and how you’re going to make it, and who’s gonna make the pieces, and how it’s gonna ship. If you know all the parts, it seems like you could just do it off your own webpage. Portal’s been doing it for a while. Jamey [Stegmaier]’s been, Stonemaier’s been doing it for a while.
Ignacy, call me. Let’s do lunch. Nothing but cookies.
RL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
DTD: It seems like, well, it’s a cheaper way. And an easier way.
RL: It’s true. Now that we’ve done the pre order, it’s a lot less stressful. I will say that. It definitely is, because there’s a certain culture with Kickstarter. People expect a certain thing, that they don’t expect with a pre-order.
DTD: It’s its own weird world, because it’s definitely not what it was intended to be when it started. Kickstarter was intended for, “I think I’ve got a good idea, but, you know, give me some money and I’ll work on this, and I’ll develop it.” You know, you’re investing, and if a product comes out, that’s just icing.
DTD: And now it is an entitled pre-order system.
RL: [laughing] It is a little bit. And it’s funny, because when back in 2011… That’s how, you know when Kickstarter was more like what you described, that’s how we treated it. I mean, we were obviously going to make something, but it was definitely like, “Hey, here’s my idea. Come along with me on this journey while we work on it.”
RL: And I treated it that way for a long time, even as the culture changed. And people really… I kept launching campaigns, and with each successive campaign, people were less accepting of that.
DTD: “How could you have two going at once? Where’s my product?” Or, you had mentioned earlier, changing rules mid-campaign.
RL: Oh yeah, very upsetting to people. One example I remember: We launched a campaign, but we didn’t have like really fancy play-through videos, with super fancy finished games.
DTD: You showed them what you had.
RL: We had prototype stuff, and it honestly was not really acceptable in the current environment.
DTD: Wow. Well, there’s a whole industry built up now around making a cool video. That’s the most important part.
RL: It’s crazy. The video we would have for our campaign was just like… You know, it’s what we usually do. It wasn’t this super high-end 3D-rendered, you know, amazing thing, product video.
DTD: Yeah, I totally get it.
RL: In some ways, I feel like, it’s like Kickstarter is kind of pushing people out, that that aren’t making these amazing productions. I mean, I know people do small stuff still. I know they do, and I shouldn’t discount that.
DTD: No, I know what you’re talking about, but I think it’s… Rather than pushing people out, I think it’s making new industries. There’s a whole bunch of companies now, whose entire reason is to take someone’s idea and make a Kickstarter worthy presentation.
RL: Ah, yeah. You’re right.
DTD: And there’s all these companies that act like publishers and developers, but aren’t. Just to just to mold it along the way.
RL: They’re more like, they’re kind of marketing companies, right? They’re not publishers.
DTD: Yeah, but they usually have developers on board as well, so they’ll play with the rules and the mechanisms, but they’ll also add the right art, and the right video, and the right this, and the right that.
RL: That is really interesting.
DTD: Yeah, the first one that really struck my eye, that was impressive, was Quillsilver. Which came out of several of the people from Starling, I believe.
Starling Games was the publisher behind Everdell, among others.
RL: Oh yeah, yeah, I know. Yeah, I know a lot of those people.
DTD: But I keep seeing more. Stella Jahja, you know Stella with the Dice Tower? She just started one, a company called Guf. Which is doing production design and preparation of games for Southeast Asia and Oceania. It’s just fascinating that all these sub-industries are popping up, to help the little designer.
RL: That is really interesting. Sure, and you know it. I think… Part of it sounds like, you know the old man yelling at clouds, right? I mean, things if you have a more exciting…
DTD: So, you want them to get off your lawn, is what you want.
RL: [laughs] I know.
DTD: But I mean, I realize if you have a better presentation, you’re gonna sell more games. I mean, it’s marketing.
RL: That’s… What’s the word? That’s capitalism. I mean, you’re trying to sell more stuff. I can’t complain too much. You cant tell people, “Don’t make this look as good,” right? [laughs]
DTD: Yeah, but it goes against the ethos of Kickstarter. And Kickstarter hasn’t really bucked against that at all. They’ve been just happy with the way they print money, and they’re just… They’re going to keep doing it their way. Yeah, I think Gamefound is trying to stir things up a little bit. But they’re going along with the new model, glitz and glamour.
Kickstarter has had competitors over the years, such as Indiegogo. But with regards to board games, Gamefound has been the first with some clout.
RL: Yeah, that’s true. That’s interesting. But I will say this. Even as, so we did the pre-order for Now or Never, but there’s no doubt it would raise more money on Kickstarter.
DTD: I was gonna ask, but I was embarrassed.
RL: No, no. There’s no doubt.
DTD: It not the level that you would expect from a Kickstarter project?
RL: Right. I mean, it’s great. If I didn’t know any better, I’d be super happy. But that’s why… You asked earlier, why a lot of companies don’t just do a pre-order. And it is because Kickstarter is the market.
DTD: That’s the central position for both people who know about you and people who don’t know about you.
DTD: And that’s… I think you’re in, I think you’re in kind of a special position. That you’ve made this name and this image for yourself in boardgaming. Your games don’t really look like standard games. You don’t have the traditional, even, lined-out graphic design. You don’t have the traditional iconographies. Your games look different. And that gives you, and I’m curious whether you feel this as well, it seems like this gives you more leeway to do stuff and to design games. And you don’t have to fit the industry’s standard mold.
RL: Yeah, I think… And I think also, when people think of Red Raven, they think of, you know, me sitting on my computer, designing a game.
DTD: We usually picture you with like an easel and 13 monitors. And a little, for some reason, an adding machine from an accountancy firm. Just working all of them at once. [laughs].
DTD: Maybe that’s just me.
RL: I mean, we have a team that does it, but I think we can get away with some of that, because it’s like a little indie team, you know. It’s a creative piece of art, you know.
DTD: And the only other designers I can think of that have some of that feel are the Fragor Brothers.
RL: Oh yeah.
DTD: They’ve got a, it’s like a handcrafted feel. I wanna say artisanal, but that just makes me think of chewy bread. [laughs] It’s all good things.
Come on back next time when we talk about pre-orders, logistics, sales numbers. And dessert! Plus, some wildlife comes and visits me while I eat.