And so we have come to the last dribs and drabs of an amazing repast with designer Ryan Laukat. The food has been incredible, the company inspirational, and the atmosphere idyllic. As the coffee drains away, unfortunately it is time to say our goodbyes. But not without some last thoughts on design and originality…
RL: Yeah, I know. Sometimes I think of doing another… What do you call that, an imprint?
DTD: Oh, like a sub-company? That’s the thing to do nowadays for sure. There’s so many of those.
Many publishing companies will establish other imprints to specialize in certain types of games. Lucky Duck Games recently started Lucky Duck Kids, whereas Smirk and Dagger, known for take-that games, started a new imprint called Smirk and Laughter for more … friendly titles.
RL: I can barely, honestly, I can barely handle the one company at this point.
DTD: I don’t know. It sounds exciting, I would play with a card game. I think that would be cool. I mean like, even… We were talking about Uwe [Rosenberg]’s games. Uwe has kind of reinvented the games that he makes so many different times. Early card games, and then feed-your-people games, and polyomino games. You know, all his Patchwork stuff. And Nova Luna and all that.
Someone should interview that guy.
RL: Yeah, Oh yeah, a lot of polyomino. Yeah, and now he’s like, just more integrated, heavier games. He’s kind of done some heavier games recently.
DTD: Yeah, he kind of bounces back and forth.
RL: People were complaining, like, “We want more heavier games.”
Uwe Rosenberg started in the late 90’s by making light card games, such as Bohnanza and Mamma Mia. 2007’s Agricola brought in his age of “feed your people”, a series of games where the players farm, collect resources, and in between rounds must feed their workers. Then, starting with 2014’s Patchwork, Uwe started putting out polyomino games, games where players fit tetris like puzzle pieces into a spacial puzzle. Now, the games may be hybrids, such as A Feast for Odin’s combination of resource collection and polyomino fitting.
RL: Yeah, those Caverna, Feast, and Agricola. They get… They’re probably in my top 10 for table time, at like… When Mallory and I play games, it’s like Caverna so much.
DTD: Are your kids into the tabletop games at this point?
RL: I mean, yes, D&D and definitely board games.
DTD: You said D&D.
RL: Definitely board games, but they get bored with eurogames.
RL: Like my son, he wants like a battle game. He wants like a miniatures, fighting game. So, I need more of those. [laughs]
DTD: There you go. There’s your next design. Big, huge, miniatures skirmish game, app driven. There you go. That’s just what you need.
RL: Oh man, I mean, he’s actually designing stuff like that.
DTD: Oh wow.
RL: He sculpts the minis out of clay.
Dragon, dragon, dragon. I made him out of clay. A family of artists.
DTD: Oh, that’s fantastic. I love it.
RL: Yeah, my kids are very into board games now. They’re in their 20’s, so it’s kind of nice. You know, the “long con” is finally coming to a conclusion there. I’ve got a built-in kind of game group. Worked out in the pandemic. I could play a lot of three and four player games.
DTD: That’s nice.
RL: Yeah, they’ll get into eurogames later, I think.
DTD: I like the mathematical eurogames – cube pushing and puzzle solving. I definitely have a soft spot for it.
RL: So, do you come here for work?
DTD: A little bit of visiting, a little bit of work. Everything kind of lined up well. It’s mostly just playing around. I’m going to start adventuring further and further out. I’ve kind of tapped, I think, the designers who will you know, sit and eat dinner with me in California. That’s where I started.
Lies. I came to Salt Lake City solely to interview designers. A little to test drive my new car.
RL: Nice. Yeah, I would definitely, when you get a chance, if you get a chance, go see Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon. That’s what they’re called, the two south of here. Pretty cool.
DTD: Yeah, I’ll have to check it out. I’ve got to be back in Napa Valley on Thursday. That’s my schedule. I’m retired, so my schedule is usually, “On this day, I have to be there.” And that’s it. There’s nothing in between.
I unfortunately did not make it into the canyons, except for the briefest of looks at Little Cottonwood.
RL: Oh, that’s nice.
DTD: See you’re your own boss. You can do these things too.
RL: Yeah, that’s true. Well, we’re going camping for the next couple days.
DTD: That’s awesome. Just in Utah?
RL: Yeah, just in the next canyon.
DTD: What could be better? That’s awesome. I’m envious. It’s really nice here. It’s gonna be really, really hot when I get back. I’m just gonna cook.
There actually was a heat wave going on in Utah while I was there. But the weather was so much nicer than the heat waves I experience in California, it was a delight.
RL: Oh man. That’s true.
DTD: Was there anything else you wanted to talk about? I feel like I kind of dominated the conversation.
RL: No, I think that’s pretty good. I can’t think of anything.
DTD: I apologize for my non-conventional interview style.
Random words. Stream of consciousness. Fueled by sugar and caffeine.
RL: Oh, I thought it was good. It kind of takes a minute to get me going. I’m kind of an introvert naturally.
DTD: No worries. I got it kind of beaten out of me when I was working when I was doing the veterinary stuff. I can start talking, but I definitely have the introverted tendencies. So hopefully I’ll see you at GenCon.
GenCon is still scheduled to take place in person from September 16-19, 2021. Get your masks on your vaccinated faces, and have your antiseptic at the ready.
DTD: If I end up going. I think I’m going to be there. It looks like I’m getting sent to GenCon and Essen. I’m excited – I haven’t been to a convention in a long time
And similarly, Essen Spiele 2021 is happening from October 14-17.
DTD: Should be really fun.
RL: I’ve only been to Essen twice, but that sure is fun.
DTD: I only did it once, and absolutely fell in love with it. It was the most fun I had at a convention. And of course it was the one right before the pandemic, and I said “I’m going to this every year, because this was so great!”
RL: And then they cancelled it.
DTD: Boom! Everything shut down. So, it’s probably my fault.
Pandemic. My fault. Hubris.
RL: Yeah, it’s cool. The first year I went, that was the year Dominion came out. And the next year, the next time I went, it was ten years later. It was like a decade.
DTD: Everything was a derivative of Dominion.
Dominion by Donald X Vaccarino is arguably the first deck building game, however no one disputes it is the most influential. Deck building became such a useful mechanic, it spread throughout board gaming.
RL: Oh yeah, I mean it was insanely different. Like it was so much bigger than the first time I went.
DTD: I believe it. I’m really curious what the next big mechanism thing is going to be, that kind of takes over. Because deck building really did take over gaming in a huge way.
RL: It did.
DTD: It is just such a naturally useful side mechanism for so many different games.
RL: It really is, yeah.
DTD: I don’t know. I’m wondering if roll-and-write, dry erase, kind of “tick tracking”, is going to turn into a side mechanism. I mean, it’s certainly not new.
RL: It seems like that’s the… Feels like that’s kind of the new [hotness], or the current favorite. And you’ll notice even if it’s not like a writing-rolling game, elements of that are in other, like a lot of games, new games that come out.
DTD: You know, checking boxes with cubes or checking boxes with…
RL: Checking box with cubes, yeah.
DTD: Note taking, to an extent.
Roll and Write games have often been compared with keeping spreadsheets, or a simple way to track fiddly resources.
RL: Yeah, I think… I honestly think. I feel like there’s room to grow with like writing and drawing stuff, like map making.
DTD: Like Cartographers.
RL: Yeah, like Cartographers.
DTD: Well, there’s a huge number of them coming out now. I think Cartographers made everybody sit up and look, and go, “Oh yeah!”. And then it turned into… Now we’ve got Doodle Dungeon, Paper Dungeons. There’s a lot of these drawing ones – Drawn to Adventure.
Most of these titles are fantasy role playing games, where the writing element is drawing maps or tunnels. Arguably, Dungeons and Dragons itself is a roll and write game.
RL: Oh yeah, there’s a lot coming out.
DTD: They all came out in the past month. See, you’re right… You’re right on the pulse.
RL: Yeah, the next thing? I mean, who knows? But every time I think like… You know it’s usually based on some classic game, you know. And it’s funny how a lot of classic games are sort of, what’s the word?
DTD: I can think of a lot of words [laughs]…
RL: Are like hated, or derided, is that the word?
DTD: Yeah, they get pooh-pooh’ed. Yeah.
RL: But it’s funny how many modern…
DTD: We grab them.
RL: Yeah, we take… The whole roll and write? It’s just Yahtzee.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that Yahtzee (1956) itself was a derivitive of the earlier public domain game Yacht, which dates to at least 1938.
DTD: It is. Well, I mean Yahtzee inspired King of Tokyo, and the rolling mechanic, which was in everything. We’ve been jotting down forever.
RL: What other classic game has not been fully tapped?
DTD: Gotta ask Restoration [Games]. I think that’s their whole modus. Yeah, someone asked me what games have really surprised me, or been really new, or really just have blown me away with novelty. So, I’ll ask you and then I’ll tell you what I said.
Restoration Games makes a business out of bringing classic old games back to life with more modern components and rules.
RL: Like what was the last game that really blew you away with novelty?
DTD: I mean, what led up to it, is games are always kind of taking pieces of other ones. We are all building on the shoulders of giants. So for the most part, I can look at a game and say “Oh, it came from that game, which came from that game, which came from that game.”
RL: Yeah, I mean…
DTD: You know, what’s the last truly original one?
Cosmic Encounter (1977) was designed to be a board game without dice, which was novel at the time. Also, Cosmic incorporated so much social dynamics and negotiation.
DTD: Cosmic was really unique. And it hasn’t… Cosmic hasn’t really been copied much.
RL: No, I think the ideas within it have been very influential, but…
DTD: Well, certainly that simultaneous card play, action-selection thing. I think that’s what’s going to be hot and new, that everybody is going to try to do. Is reducing downtime and eliminating the concept of turns. Everybody is aiming for that.
Many new board games are rediscovering old mechanisms that allow all players to act on every turn, eliminating downtime. Bringing it full circle, roll and write games are excellent at this.
RL: Yeah, yeah. That’s true. Yeah.
DTD: The last game I ran into that I thought was really, truly unique was The Mind.
In The Mind by Wolfgang Warsch, players cooperatively try to play all of their numbered cards in numerical order. Without talking. It turns waiting, anxiety, and anticipation into a mechanism.
RL: Oh yeah, that’s actually a good one. I agree with that.
DTD: And I mean, I didn’t love it, but I’m absolutely blown away by how different it was from anything else, you know. It didn’t really come from anything.
RL: Yeah, I feel like these days that doesn’t happen very often. It feels like a lot of the low hanging fruit has been taken.
RL: But yes, I will totally agree about that.
DTD: Just the weird things that go through my head.
RL: Yeah, in fact, like I haven’t played a lot… I haven’t played much of anything that felt really original for like 5 years, except for that one.
DTD: And I’m not saying that the originality is a necessity for a game to be good. I mean, I’ve loved so many games I’ve played, but I also see them for what they are. They are evolutions of other things.
RL: Oh, sure.
DTD: And I’m perfectly happy if someone takes a game and does it better. It thrills me no end. Hallertau is a great game. I really like it a lot. And it’s got a lot of pieces of a lot of other games in there.
Hallertau is the newest reincarnation of Uwe Rosenberg’s farming and “feed your people” games. It incorporates ideas from Reykholt, Agricola, and so many others.
RL: [laughs] sure.
DTD: Or, like Alexander Pfister is one of my favorite designers, and his games always feel like kind of a 50% to 75% improvement from his previous games. They all borrow from each other in this logical kind of way. And I love them, but there hasn’t been a blow it away unique thing for a while.
Notable Pfister games have been Mombasa (2015), Great Western Trail (2016), Blackout: Hong Kong (2018), and CloudAge (2020). And you can see the same mechanisms migrate through these games, changing and evolving.
RL: I like his stuff too actually. I like his stuff because I feel like he’s not afraid to… I like a little luck in my games, and I feel like he’s not afraid to put in a little bit of that in his designs.
DTD: Right. Well, like you remember 504?
504 (2015) by Friedemann Friese is an amazing board game sandbox, that allows the player to create euro games from a series of modular building blocks.
RL: Oh yeah.
DTD: 504, it’s absolutely mind boggling that that game could be made. But the downside to it was that it had to be so exactly designed, that each game didn’t have any chaos. Each game you made out of it felt very predictable and standard.
RL: It almost felt like he was trying to say something about the industry.
Someone should interview that guy.
DTD: Maybe. [laughs]
RL: He’s like, “This is just what everybody else does!”
DTD: It could be.
RL: “But I did it here!” Like, “Here. Here’s your machine. This is every game that you ever wanted.”
DTD: Exactly! So, you definitely need that randomness, that chaos. A perfect design is not fun. Its gotta be “whacked out.”
RL: I think I like a little more chaos than maybe a lot of BGG users, for example.
DTD: It’s the classic “horrible black void,” Yeah. I like his designs a lot. Well, I think I’ll let you go.
Talisman (1983) from Games Workshop famously had an ending room with a random card. After playing for 2 to 3 hours, battling your way to the center of the board, you got to flip this final card. Most of the time it allowed you to obliterate your opponents and win, but sometimes you got the Horrible Black Void. And you just die. Start over at the beginning. 1980’s game design…
RL: Sounds good.
DTD: I mean it’s tempting to just sit here and talk until it’s pitch black, because I love hearing myself talk.
RL: Oh, this was really, this is really nice.
DTD: Oh, thank you so much for doing it. This is… I have so much fun actually doing this in person. I tried to do them over zoom during the pandemic.
This dinner was my first in person interview after 16 months of isolation.
RL: Oh yeah.
DTD: It was good in that I got to talk to people I normally would never talk to, but god, I hate Zoom. Man, I can’t handle it.
I am not skilled at the intricacies of video conferencing software.
RL: I know.
DTD: You know, I get to talk to designers in Australia and all that, but I can’t get through the technology. It’s so different. This is what my goal was. Was just go out to eat, you know, talk a little about the food, and talk a little about games, and talk a little about nothing. And just hang out.
RL: Yeah, it’s been really fun.
DTD: Good, good. Can I nab a couple more pictures? Call it “B roll.”
RL: Sure. I’m sorry about last, I’m sorry about last time, that I had to cancel on you.
Ryan Laukat was one of the first designers I called upon for my new mealtime interview idea so many years ago. But our schedules just never synched up.
DTD: Oh, don’t even worry about it, it was… I threw it out there at like the last minute. And I’m tenacious, so…
RL: That’s good, that’s good.
DTD: That’s cool, no. This is… I definitely don’t want anything rushed, or any of that.
RL: Oh cool. Nice.
DTD: So, that’s all good. I don’t want to forget this [the voice recorder], because that would be very, very bad. That’s basically what my nightmares are made of.
RL: Well, you know what? If you didn’t get a recording, we could figure it out. We could figure it out another time.
DTD: Fake it? Oh, come on…
Stabbed right in my journalistic integrity. It’s located just under the heart, on the right.
And for those that stay awake at night pondering… This is a real interview. I swear. Not faked. Honest…
RL: I know, that would be tough, wouldn’t it? You would have to wait a couple years, and forget it.
DTD: I’d have to try to forget everything, I know. That’s the problem I had with some of the ones that I did, is like, I would arrange a dinner, and then I would try to… We should start finding our way out. I don’t remember how we got in…
Log Haven, much like the Canyon Trail upon which it lies, is a bit tough to negotiate.
RL: I think over there. [pointing]
DTD: So, there were a couple. There were a couple designers that I figured out a dinner that we’re gonna have, and then we started chatting because they were local, or… It’s like “No, I don’t want to talk before the dinner! Stop, don’t tell me anything!”
DTD:I do a news podcast now, so I get it.
Dice Tower Now! All your weekly board game news every Monday in 30 minutes or less.
Host: Thanks, Gentlemen.
DTD: Thank you so much. Alright, I’m going to take off.
RL: OK, cool.
DTD: So, thank you again. It was an absolute delight. So hopefully, we bump into each other again, and we can have another dinner.
RL: Absolutely. Thanks so much.
DTD: Hey, sure thing! Have a good one, man.
And so ends an amazing dinner with designer Ryan Laukat, one of the nicest, most talented people I am likely to meet. I cannot thank Ryan enough for the company and the chatter, and I am truly looking forward to what comes next out of Red Raven Games. The next time I am in Utah, I will look up Log Haven to fuel my body, and hopefully Ryan to fuel my thoughts.