Welcome back to the last part of my dinner with Gloomhaven and Frosthaven designer, Sir Isaac Childres. He has not been officially knighted as of yet, but I anticipate big things to come. I know what you are thinking – “Only 4 parts! What happened?” Honestly, I think I just misjudged how large to make each segment of the interview. So, trust me, the total interview is as cumbersomely long winded and space occupying as normal! And now, join me within the burritorium.
DTD: So, we’ve got more eurogames coming from Cephalofair as well?
IC: Yeah, maybe. We’ll see. I don’t have any plans right now, it’s just ideas. Things I want to do, but obviously vacation is a… It’s going to be a big thing.
DTD: Oh, vacation’s overrated. [laughs]
IC: No. Been working too long.
DTD: Oh yeah. You know, if you’re reaching the end of the Frosthaven cycle, that’s a remarkable amount of non-stop work.
IC: But yeah, there will be things coming. I’ve talked a lot on my blog about this other game that I’m working on, that is kind of partially based on my experience in physics grad school. With like a sort of sci-fi element to it as well.
IC: So, the main core of the idea, it’s a euro game, like a worker placement, but the idea is that you’ve… Like this physics lab has opened up a rift to a parallel universe. And so, it’s like a worker placement thing, but you’ve got like two sides of a board, and you’re trying to have them be kind of parallel, or you know, mirror images of each other.
IC: So that’s kind of like the general idea, and I’ve been working on it for a long time, but I haven’t… I haven’t like touched it in like 2 years, because I’ve been working on Jaws of the Lion and Frosthaven. But that’s one of the things I want to pick up.
DTD: Oh sure. Little things like that.
IC: One of the things I want to pick up eventually, like once Frosthaven is done. But that’s an interesting thing, because it’s definitely not Gloomhaven IP. Like there’s really no way to theme that within that universe.
DTD: If you keep it in sci-fi, that’s tough.
IC: Yeah, so I was thinking of just like being a designer on that, and trying to pitch it to other publishers.
DTD: It kind of reminds me of Remember our Trip. Had multiple boards where you were trying to mimic them. And the idea was memory. Like, this is what really happened on the trip, and it’s a polyomino game, but this is what you remember about it.
IC: Oh, OK.
In Remember Our Trip, players are trying to place tiles on their personal board, to match the tiles on a master board. That has not been created yet. The Master Board is what really happened, and the player boards are the player’s memories.
DTD: And you’re trying to match the real. But memories are never perfect. So you only really score…
IC: I don’t remember that game.
DTD: It’s a tile laying game, and you only really score for what you’ve remembered correctly. It’s very abstracted, but I kind of liked that tie-in to memory.
IC: Yeah. Memory games can be kind of hit or miss.
DTD: It’s not, it’s not a memory game. It’s themed on memory.
IC: Oh, OK, so it’s not like, “You’re looking at this, and now I’m going to take it away from you and you have to reconstruct it.”
DTD: Absolutely not. It’s… You see everything, and it’s more, “What tiles do I have that can come close to that.”
IC: I see, yeah, so you’re just… OK.
DTD: Or do I have the proper tiles to be the one to make the first memory? Or you can make a correct memory based on something someone else has played on their board, as long as you kind of match it up. It’s neat. Japanese game. Remember our Trip from Saashi and Saashi.
IC: That sounds interesting. Oh OK, yeah, I think I have heard of it, but I haven’t played it.
DTD: But I’ve always felt we needed more physics games. We need more entanglement and quantum games.
IC: All right.
DTD: So, I think that’s your job now. You need to make us a good entanglement game.
IC: OK. I could maybe include that in the one I’m working on.
DTD: OK, done. As far as I know, there’s only two board games right now based on quantum entanglement.
The space dice strategy game Quantum has an Entanglement expansion, and there is the cooperative game Entanglion. Entanglion was actually designed to help workers at IBM Research understand concepts in quantum computing.
IC: Well, that’s still a lot.
DTD: It’s a theme we need more of. That’s pretty cool. So, right now are there…? So there’s not anything right now that you’re working on coming close to completion other than finishing up Frosthaven and some of these other ideas that Frosthaven has pushed aside?
IC: Yeah, I kind of just work on one thing at a time.
DTD: That was, yeah, one of the other things I was wondering. A lot of designers out there will have three plates all spinning at once, and try to do the… What do they call it in programming? It’s the snake eating its tail.
IC: Ouroboros or whatever.
DTD: You always have one in each digestion, one almost done, and one in birth.
IC: Yeah, I don’t know. I just, I find I work a lot better just focused on one thing. I mean, I tried to work on two things at once with [Return to] Dark Tower, and that kind of worked.
DTD: Oh, that’s right!
Return to Dark Tower is an upcoming game by Isaac Childres, Noah Cohen, Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobson and Brian Neff. Restoration Games is bringing back the classic Dark Tower from 1981. It features a really cool electronic tower. And it’s dark.
IC: Yeah, eventually that kind of fell off my radar. I mean, yeah, I was working on it for a long time, obviously. I contributed a lot to it.
IC: Once the Kickstarter launched, and it kind of went more into the development process, and not so much the design process…
DTD: Then you were out?
IC: Yeah, I haven’t been too involved in that since.
DTD: I remember I played an early prototype of [Return to] Dark Tower, and every storyline that we picked usually ended in, “I’ll text Isaac.” [laughs]. “I’ll figure out where this goes”
I first played in July 2019, and the app was still in a prototype form. Our group just happened to pick storylines and choices that were not in the app yet, so Isaac had to be consulted often about what would happen next.
DTD: And then I played… Just last week I played the final. I’m assuming it’s the final at this point.
IC: Yeah, I hope so!
DTD: And really had a good time with it. I think it’s a… It’s a rough IP, because it hits nostalgia so hard; there’s so many people expecting great things.
DTD: And it’s hard because they’re not expecting the original game. Because, honestly, the original game was bad. They’re expecting their memory of the original game.
IC: Yeah. Which is tricky.
DTD: Which is so much more out blown. And that’s my generation. When Dark Tower came out, Christmas of… I believe it was ‘82 or ‘83. That was all I wanted. That was my end-all-be-all of existence. Was Dark Tower. I didn’t get it. It was a very disappointing Christmas.
It was 1981. I got Electronic Dungeons and Dragons instead. Worst. Christmas. Ever.
DTD: So, I’m relying on this to make it all up for me.
IC: Yeah, to make it better. Heal those wounds.
DTD: It’s going to correct all my memories. So, were you on it from the very beginning?
IC: Yeah, yeah. I think so.
DTD: Did you have an attachment to that IP?
IC: No, no. It was just a like… It was pretty much like right after Gloomhaven was released. And Justin [Jacobson] was a big fan of Gloomhaven. I think he got in on the original Kickstarter, so he had a copy, and he just immediately started playing it, and was like “Oh, this is great.”
IC: So, he messaged me, and was like, “Do you want to work on his game with Rob Daviau?” And I was like, “Yes!”
DTD: Twist my arm. That sounds not bad.
IC: Yeah, at the time, especially, like I was, I was like a nobody. You know, I had this big game that was kind of blowing up. And I was like “Yes, I want to work with Rob Daviau!” Like, you know, the father of legacy games, and all of that. And Rob is great. He’s just a great person, a great person to work with.
DTD: He’s such a nice guy. He did one of the earlier, kind of meal-time interviews I did, was with Rob. And he was so nice about it. So, it really was fantastic. He was going through California, promoting Dark Tower.
DTD: And called me up. He was like, “I’m here for like a day, do you want to do a dinner?” So, it’s like, “Yes!”
IC: Yeah, how do you say no to Rob Daviau?
DTD: And he’s a foodie, so I offered him big snooty food. And he thought that was great.
I honestly had such a good visit; Rob is a delight. We ate at All Spice in San Mateo, California.
IC: Ah, OK. Now I feel bad just bringing you to Chipotle.
DTD: No, this is fantastic.
IC: It was a good meal.
My wife is ecstatic that one of my interviews finally featured one of her favorite restaurants.
DTD: Jonny Pac wanted to go to In-n-Out burger.
Although he requested it, we did not in fact go to In-n-Out Burger. Instead we hit a lovely Chinese buffet in the heart of gold country.
IC: There you go.
DTD: So, I have been to every high, low, in between, backwards… Every kind of meal and restaurant with… You might not have noticed that designers are kind of odd.
IC: Yeah, yeah.
DTD: One or two of them.
Present company excepted.
IC: Yeah, I accept being odd as well. [laughs] Maybe not as odd as some of the others. Accepting some of my eccentricities.
DTD: [laughs] It’s been all over the place. So, I think, Uwe Rosenberg… We ate in the cafeteria at Essen.
IC: Oh cool.
DTD: And that went pretty well. So, what are you doing when you’re not doing games? I mean do you have other passions, other hobbies going on? Or is gaming kind of obsessing everything?
IC: No, I play some video games. We watch a lot of TV together. I don’t know – that’s pretty much it.
DTD: No, I get it.
Video and Board Games. Certainly not far from my own life choices.
IC: Not a whole lot. You know, we weren’t able to travel, but we did just go to California recently. Since the pandemic let up a bit. So that was fun. Yeah, we plan on doing some more traveling in the future.
DTD: If you guys want to explore Northern California, Napa Valley, that kind of area, I can set you up. I’ve got a place in Napa Valley that I’ve held informal conventions at, with a wine cellar, and I can set up … If you’re into wine, I can set up wine tours and that sort of thing.
DTD: So, I’ve been offering everybody. And a couple people have taken me up on it. [Stephen] Buonocore was there like a month ago.
Stephen Buonocore was the founder and owner of Stronghold Games until his retirement in August, 2020. Now he’s just a professional layabout and man of leisure.
IC: Oh, nice.
DTD: Oh yeah, he had a great time.
IC: I could imagine.
Stephen is quite the character. I cannot imagine a situation where he would not have a good time.
DTD: Yeah, definitely if you guys find yourself in Northern California, you should give me a ring. It’s the least I can do.
IC: Sure, yeah. We will probably take you up that.
KC: Sure! Sounds fun.
DTD: I know the wine stuff pretty alright. That’s fun. I like it out there. Yeah, I’m looking forward to traveling, myself. This is as close to traveling as I’ve done in much longer than I care to remember.
IC: Yeah. Yeah, we went out to California. Yeah, that’s the only time we’ve gotten on a plane since pandemic.
DTD: Well, it’s been tough to do anything more than that.
DTD: I was really looking forward to Germany, actually, but…
I was planning on going to Essen Spiel in October 2021, but could not reasonably justify the risk when Delta was raging.
IC: Yeah, maybe next year.
DTD: My wife is pretty careful about the pandemic, and the upswings that are going on. So, in the compromise, it’s like, I won’t go to Germany. I agree, it’s getting to be a scary idea.
IC: Yeah. Well, you’re here. In Indiana. So, that’s something.
DTD: Yeah, I like Gen Con. I don’t think I’ve ever really explored Indianapolis much, but at least the area right around the Convention Center. I always have a good time. It’s really… It’s odd, it seems like one of the things the pandemic has done in board games, like a lot of other industries. Is it’s been kind of a proof of concept – What can we do without conventions?
DTD: And it seems like board games are releasing on their own timetable, now. Because everything used to release right at the big conventions. If you finished before, you’d wait and you would hold it over. If you were releasing after, you’d kind of rush it in. And now, I mean tell me if it feels different for you, but it seems like there’s nothing new in Gen Con. Because it all released on it’s own time scale.
DTD: So, all the things that they’re selling, and talking about, I kind of already knew about.
IC: Yeah, and also, it’s like the first convention in two years, or whatever. So it’s like, do you really need anything new? I mean, people… It’s probably going to be new to a lot of people who showed up.
I always need new things.
DTD: That’s a good point.
IC: I don’t know. For us, like it hasn’t really been that different, just because like I’ve always just been on my own time schedule. I’ve never actually released something at a convention.
DTD: [laughs] The beat of your own drummer.
IC: Yeah, it’s always just, you know, whenever it’s ready when it’s coming out. This sort of thing.
DTD: When it’s done, it’s done.
DTD: I’m kind of used to a lot of the big companies not having anything to talk about for three months before, and then lots of things drop at the convention. And I just don’t feel that this year.
DTD: Even when Fantasy Flight did their big announcement last night.
Fantasy Flight Games has traditionally been very quiet right until convention time. Then at their “In Flight Announcement”, they will usually drop some very big announcements. This year, their show was noticably … sparse.
IC: Yeah, it was something about Marvel Champions. Was there anything else?
DTD: But it’s just a box with a title [Unfinished Business] and no details. And it’s like, “yeah, we always expected there would be, but…” There was really nothing. They talked Unfathomable, which already had its announce and everything.
Outer Rim is a sandbox Star Wars game where players get a ship, hire a crew, go on missions, and make a name for themselves. Everyone expected an expansion to this title since its release in 2019 – the game was popular, but was not chock full of content. Fantasy Flight gave us a title, Unfinished Business, but no other details.
IC: Yeah, I feel like their announcement last year, I mean when there was no Gen Con, was pretty big. I mean, it was the first time they showed Descent [Legends of the Dark].
DTD: Descent – They announced Descent.
Descent: Legends of the Dark released in August 2021.
IC: And they announced a bunch of other stuff as well.
DTD: Yeah. When compared to this year, it seemed like it was a little bit of a let down. They almost shouldn’t have had an announce.
IC: I guess last year there were probably still a bunch of products in the pipeline before the pandemic started. So now, like a year into the pandemic… Yeah, maybe there’s a lot less to talk about.
DTD: Yeah, that’s true. But even Gen Con on a whole, I think there were maybe two games I’ve seen at Gen Con that I did not know about before Gen Con. The new Azul dropped, and I had no indications that it was on the way.
IC: Oh yeah, was that the 4th one? I hadn’t heard about that.
DTD: Yeah, 4th one. NEW AZUL, subtitle, HEXAGONS.
IC: [laughs] That’s not the real title, I imagine.
DTD: No, it’s not. It’s called the Queen’s Palace.
Alright, I was quite flustered, and repeatedly got the name of this title wrong. The 4th Azul title from the master Michael Kiesling is Azul: Queen’s Garden. And it features hexagonal tiles.
IC: Oh, OK, hexagons. Hexagons are cool. I like hexagons.
DTD: They are, they are also a shape. [laughs]
IC: You can make a grid out of them, and fight monsters on them!
Gloomhaven has hexagons. Isaac probably invented them.
DTD: Ooh, maybe it’s an area control, skirmish game, with hexagons.
IC: And you are protecting the Queen’s palace.
Or, just hear me out here, HER GARDEN.
DTD: It would probably sell if it had miniatures. I think you need miniatures.
IC: Definitely need more miniatures in Azul.
Fantasy Realms by Bruce Glassco is a fantastic card game that emphasizes hand management. All of the cards are unique, and each interacts with others in your hand to generate or penalize points. The title was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2021. WizKids new theming is called Star Trek Missions.
IC: Yeah, they’re probably going to do that a lot, aren’t they? Because it got nominated.
DTD: Well, they have the IP.
IC: Yeah, probably going to see a lot more Fantasy Realms.
DTD: I like Fantasy Realms a lot.
IC: It’s alright.
DTD: I thought it was fun.
IC: It’s like a fun, filler game. Always felt like a little random to me, but it’s short. so yeah, it’s not that big deal.
DTD: Well, that’s the thing, is it looked like it had a completely arbitrary ruleset that made no sense. And it does. But it works for some odd reason.
IC: Yeah, it works.
DTD: But it’s in a corner a little bit, because you can’t really add any cards. If you were to make an expansion to Fantasy Realms, it has a potential of just blowing the whole thing up.
Fantasy Realms actually has a successful expansion, The Cursed Hoard. So color me quite wrong.
IC: Yeah, yeah, I think you’re just going to see a lot of re-themes of it, like they did with Love Letter.
IC: I mean, they didn’t do it, but somebody did it with Love Letter. Whoever owns that.
DTD: Everybody did it.
IC: Yeah, Batman Love Letter. [laughs]
Since that interview, I have not seen any more Fantasy Realms rethemes, but there has been a new Love Letter – Jabba’s Palace taking place in the Star Wars Universe.
DTD: That one was pretty good. Of all the Love Letters. Yeah, it’s definitely the age of the re-theme. There are certain companies out there that are only doing re-themes.
DTD: Well, some people really like that.
IC: Yeah, there’s the market for it.
DTD: So, coming soon, we are going to have the, of course the Gloomhaven roll-and-write? Gloomhaven the Dice Game…?
IC: Who knows? Yeah, you never know. I might, I might get into roll and writes. I mean, roll and writes are pretty fun.
You heard it here, first. Gloomhaven roll and write with a poster sized sheet.
DTD: There’s a trend now for very, very heavy roll and writes.
IC: Yeah, with Hadrian’s Wall.
IC: Oh yeah, I really liked Fleet.
DTD: Yeah. They’re all pretty heavy.
IC: And I don’t know if… I know I backed the Three Sisters Kickstarter. I don’t think I actually bought the game. I just like gave him a couple bucks. But maybe I should have bought the game. It looks really good.
DTD: It does. It looks like a nice heavy roll and write. And I had a tremendous amount of fun with Hadrian’s Wall. I thought that was great. And I taught it a whole bunch of times at the last convention that I went to. So, it’s a tough teach, which… That means I liked figuring out how to teach it. It’s a good one.
DTD: Well, you want to you want to take off? I feel bad I’m keeping you guys.
Isaac’s wife was sitting with us and doing such an amazing job at acting interested, I actually felt for a moment that I was fascinating.
IC: Probably head back pretty soon. Oh no, we are good. We’re all happy. So yeah, I don’t know if you had any other questions. Obviously this is, you know this is a conversation.
DTD: It is. It’s totally conversational, mostly because I’m a very bad interviewer. So, was there anything else you wanted to talk about? Things that I missed?
Most designers are a bit thrown off when I just take them out to eat and chat about nothing. I am equally flummoxed when people read about it… I swear it is not a strategy, it is an excuse.
IC: [laughs] What else do I want to talk about…? I think we’ve covered it pretty well. We’ve talked about Price [Johnson] and how great he is.
DTD: He is amazing.
Price Johnson is vice president for Cephalofair. And he is amazing, both professionally and personally.
DTD: I’ve known Price a bit longer than he’s been with Cephalofair. So now, it’s gone from a friend to … Well, I kiss his butt to try to get information about Cephalofair.
He does not tell me. He knows better.
IC: [laugh] But yeah, Chris is our other full time employee.
IC: He runs conventions. So now he actually has something to do. Now that the pandemic is dying down.
IC: But yeah, he’s also just been running our customer service. Which was a full time job with the Kickstarter as well. But yeah, I mean he’s great as well. I’m very happy with everybody.
DTD: I can only imagine if you’ve got a big complicated game with a lot of parts, that customer service after a Kickstarter has got to be tough.
IC: Yeah. Just having 80,000 backers, right? I mean, it’s just a lot of people that can message you. And ask you questions about whatever.
DTD: It’s a whole other level of doing a Kickstarter that’s ridiculously successful.
IC: I don’t even know how he manages it all, but apparently he does. So it’s good.
DTD: I have to ask on the original Kickstarter, the very first Gloomhaven Kickstarter, there were all these stories and rumors going around.
I loved the tone of surprise in Isaac’s voice.
DTD: Things like, the shipping ended up being so expensive that you actually lost money on copies of Gloomhaven.
IC: Oh, no, no. Well… Is that true? Because the shipping… Wasn’t shipping included in the price, too? Yeah, I don’t think I made much money on the copies, on the copies without miniatures. So I think it was like… I don’t even remember the prices.
DTD: I don’t know the details off the top of my head.
IC: I think it was like $65 for Gloomhaven without miniatures.
In the original Kickstarter (September 2015), a pledge with standees was $64, and a pledge with miniature would set you back $79. Free shipping within the US and China. 1,369 backers opted for standees. 3,290 for miniature.
DTD: I remember you were selling it at a very low cost. Even with shipping.
IC: Yeah. That included shipping. And that was like a steal. And I don’t think I made much money on that. But then we did $80.00 for the game with miniatures. And I made some money on that. And then also, I mean it worked out, obviously. I mean after that fulfilled, then we had the other Kickstarter, where you know…
DTD: Well, it fueled the second Kickstarter. It really kind of prepped it.
IC: Yeah, where I increased the price, and then you know raised $4 million. And then we were set.
DTD: Then you could make them. No, that’s awesome.
IC: I definitely priced that original Kickstarter very low. Because I didn’t even, I didn’t even know how big the game was myself, at that time. I just had an idea.
DTD: That’s true. Most of the time when you’re setting up a Kickstarter, you’re faking it. You’re making it look like a complete game, with things you have no idea about.
IC: There’s some thinking elements to it, yeah. I mean, it was more than an idea, obviously. But like, yeah, just the amount, the exact amount of content had not been created at that time. I think, I knew we wanted 17 characters. I had all those. Oh no, it started with 15. And then, like we added two more with stretch goals.
DTD: I thought so, yeah.
IC: But yeah, just like the box ended up just being like twice as big as I thought. So, the manufacturing was a lot more expensive. But I don’t think I lost money. Even on those $65 copies, I think it more or less probably just balanced out.
22 pounds. 10 kilograms.
DTD: It just was tight.
IC: It was probably around that. To make it and ship it.
DTD: Whatever it was, it all worked.
IC: Yeah, no complaints! It all worked out in the end.
DTD: Good. I’m glad. It’s such a fun game. Like I said, I have 3 copies going. And everybody loves it. So, I’m excited. And I’m on Frosthaven. I expect my advanced delivery copy when I get back to my hotel room. That’ll be – it’s right there. Sitting right in front of me.
IC: Oh, probably not. But we’ll try.
It was not sitting right there waiting for me back at my hotel room. Isaac must have gotten the room number wrong.
DTD: Very cool, man. Well, I super appreciate having a meal.
IC: Yeah, it was great. Thanks, thanks for inviting me.
DTD: You’re a cheap date. [laughs] Not a problem at all.
IC: Yeah I had a great time, too. Thanks for inviting me.
DTD: Yeah, perfect. I’ll go ahead and stop this.
And so ends another designer adventure, within the legendary walls of Chipotle. I cannot thank Isaac Childres enough for taking time from a busy Gen Con to have a bite to eat with me. And now I will forever associate burritos with Isaac’s games. Normally not a problem with board games and designers, but seeing as I have invested more than 60 hours into Gloomhaven so far, and have as yet not started the larger Frosthaven… I will need to invest in tortillas.