When I very first started Sice Tower Dish, I made a short list of designers I would really like to go have a meal with. And since the beginning, Eric Lang was on that list. Eric Lang is responsible for so many modern classics, I don’t even know where to start. Dice Masters, Blood Rage, XCOM, Quarriors, Arcadia Quest. BGG credits Eric with nearly 500 titles. Eric and I have been writing for a while, plans have been made, but it took until March 2022 in Reno to actually get Eric on the other side of a dinner table. We are at Oceano, a lovely sushi and seafood restaurant in Reno. Discussing seating with the maître d’.
EML: Do you want a more private area or…
DTD: Oh, can we sit further back? Just where it’s a little quieter, or are you not…
Hostess: I’m sorry, it’s closed on that side.
DTD: I’m OK. Awesome. Thank you again for doing this.
EML: Oh, my pleasure. It is one of those things… It’s been a while, right? We’ve been trying to make this happen for a while.
Years. Literally years.
DTD: I know we have… We’ve tried and failed and tried and failed. That’s OK.
EML: I mean, we live in interesting times now, right?
DTD: [laughs] Without a doubt.
Note to readers in the future: “Interesting times” is not good. We are at GAMA Expo 2022, almost exactly 2 years after the COVID pandemic really hit the US, during my time at GAMA Expo 2020.
EML: Who knows? Who knows when you’re gonna hook up? Now you said you live close… You said you live close to Napa, right?
DTD: Yeah, I’ve actually, I’ve got a place kind of in Napa Valley – right on the outside, in Santa Rosa, if you know that area.
EML: I don’t actually. But I know the LA area. Well, not greater LA, but… The reason I was asking is that I’m going, we’re finally cemented. I’ll be going to LA like every two months or so, because of Exploding Kittens.
It was announced in December 2020 that Eric, who had recently left Cool Mini or Not, would be working for burgeoning game company Exploding Kittens.
DTD: Oh awesome, yeah.
EML: Now that things are normalizing a little bit. So I’ll be in the area from time to time.
DTD: Yeah. And I’d love to meet up with you in LA from time to time. Or if you happen to be Northern California, you’re more than welcome to tour around Napa Valley, and that sort of stuff.
Napa Valley is in outer, outer, outer LA. It’s about a seven hour drive. But then again, at certain times it can take that long to get from one side of LA to the other.
EML: Northern California – Not likely, but it’s just one of those times…
DTD: I know. There’s less draw there, for sure.
EML: I want to see every corner of the world, right? But it’s like I want to play all the games. But there’s limited time.
DTD: No, I understand completely. I want to do the same. I’ve got a lot of friends down in LA. I go down there every once in a while, anyway.
EML: Yeah, I’d imagine you would.
Admittedly, I was in southern California more often before the pandemic. It’s been a while.
DTD: It’s not that bad. It’s about a 6-hour drive, and I kind of enjoy it.
EML: Wow. Not that, so it’s six… It’s “California” not-that-bad. I love it. Do you want to order stuff before we get interrupted?
DTD: Oh sure, it’s all part of it. We get interrupted, and we go on tangents. I don’t formalize anything.
EML: Oh, I love it.
I will gladly allow people to believe I create my interview atmosphere on purpose, with artistic intent and drive. Don’t tell anyone it’s just sheer laziness and apathy. I don’t prepare.
DTD: And I’ll be honest, you had to be kind of terrified, because right when we were setting this up, you posted on Twitter – “Man interviews are the worst, and interviewers always ask the most terrible questions. [paraphrased]” [laughs]
EML: [laughs] Oh s–t, so oh damn. I was hoping it wouldn’t get read that way. I was trying to hope for a, hope for like, “Here’s some inspiration.”
Just a forewarning for the faint of heart. Eric did not back away from some … stronger … language. I would say “adult” language, but I think we all know the truth. Adult language described economics and vinyl siding. Obscenity is just fun.
DTD: You’re looking for innovation. You’re looking for interesting.
EML: Well, but like, so so… Like conversational is cool. Roundtable style conversational is cool, too. I don’t get that a lot. I mean, I doubt any of that applies to you. Like, you know shit. You’ve watched my interviews, you’ve seen my stuff.
EML: What happens is, more often than not, believe it or not, when I go to coventions, I always try to reach out to new people I haven’t seen.
DTD: Oh, sure. Of course.
EML: I want to cover new things, but unfortunately most of them don’t even do the basic research. So they’re like, “So please tell us what games you’ve made.” Right? Like, that basic, right?
I want everyone to forget my previous diatribe about never preparing.
DTD: So, you lead with the Dilbert game?
EML: Right, yeah. I lead with Dilbert or Fantasia… Fantasía, sorry.
Please note: the first time, Fantasia was clearly pronounced without the accent acute, whereas on further reflection, Eric repeated with the proper accentuated vowel – Fantasía.
DTD: There you go.
EML: And then, I’ll even tell them at the beginning of the interview, “Just so you know, here are the questions that I’ve been asked 1000 times. For your sake, maybe you don’t want to cover them. But if you do, no problem. I’ll just warn you, I’ll have a canned answer for it.” If you want organic, it’s all good.
DTD: Oh yeah, and you know, I want to hear some of both. You know, I want to hear some of the canned stuff.
I was not provided with the aforementioned list of questions.
DTD: Because I want to hear how you got started on this, which I’m sure you’ve been asked a million times. And it’s… I know FFG [Fantasy Flight Games], and some of the early stuff. And I know that you, I think you self-published your first game, didn’t you? Mystick [Domination].
EML: I did self-publish my first one, yup. Mystick – “MY STICK”. Because it was Mystic with a K.
Spelling and pronunciation are very important topics in tabletop game design.
DTD: Yes, well, that’s how you make a fantasy word, is you take a normal word, and you change one of the letters.
EML: Right. Exactly right. So it’s either changing I to a Y, right? Or put a K instead of a C.
DTD: Oh, and then umlauts, and all bets are off.
EML: Umlauts and apostrophes. That’s right, that’s right.
Call back to Fantasía. See the accent above the i?
DTD: Did you want to get sushi? Do you want to just go for something light?
EML: I would like some seafood, actually.
Why is it so unusual that one restaurant has both seafood and sushi? It seems natural to do both, yet I think Oceano was one of the first restaurants I’ve seen that does both. And minor spoiler – they were both delicious.
EML: Oh my God! Oh I’m gonna get my own here, because this is… Of course I went to the most expensive thing on the menu. Look at this!
DTD: No, get anything you want. It’s funny, I’ve done a lot of the designer dinners now, and sometimes I’ll have a designer like Jonny Pac Cantin, he wanted to go to like In and Out Burger.
I talked Jonny out of fast food burgers. We went to an amazing chinese food buffet in Gold Country.
DTD: And then Rob Daviau wanted to go to like a 5-star.
EML: Of course, of course.
DTD: Of course, he did.
Rob and I did our interview at All Spice, a fusion gourmet restaurant in San Mateo California. I still dream about some of those dishes. And I learned what a clafoutis is. It’s a pancake.
EML: I just went to dinner with him. I just went to dinner with Rob last night. I mean, we go to dinner once a show.
EML: And we had the… You’re recording that, right?
Always recording. Beware if you join me for a light repast.
EML: Good. We had the “what do you want to be on your tombstone” conversation, right?
DTD: Oh man, your epitaph.
EML: Yeah, and I’ve thought about it, of course, right? And I think the only thing… Well, Rob, he conflated too, which was fun. It’s like, “What’s the title of your autobiography?” And “What’s on your tombstone?” And I’m like, “Oh mine is the same for both – Well s–t.”
I am so enourmously pleased that the very same sentence had the word conflating and the word s–t. It’s little things like this that make me happy.
DTD: [laughs] There you go.
EML: Rob’s was “f-ing fancy”. [laughs]
Eric did not say “f-ing”. Let’s just assume from here on out that no words from Eric’s mouth contained hyphens.
DTD: [laughs] I think he told me that.
Waiter: Hello gentlemen, how you doing?
DTD: Doing well.
EML: Good, how are you?
Waiter: Good, can I get something for you to drink?
DTD: I’m good with water actually.
EML: I should be good with water, but I am going to get a Pepsi, please. Just because it’s Reno and I have to be unhealthy.
DTD: Go for it.
It is well known that Reno is just inherently unhealthy.
EML: It’s terrible, man. I’ve had so much sugar, and so much crap food here.
DTD: I usually, early in the con, I will eat myself absolutely sick. And then later, I’ll do like one meal a day. Just recovering from all the stuff I’ve already done.
EML: Right, and you feel… Especially eating hotel food is like… I mean, we’re probably about the same age, but I’m probably a little older than you.
DTD: I think you’re younger than me.
EML: I’m pushing 50.
DTD: I’m 50… pushing 55.
Technically 53, but I didn’t want Eric to feel badly. I thought Eric was in his early 40’s to be honest.
EML: Oh, OK, alright. So, we are about the same. So, like, we’re at the age now we’re like, “Oh God, I feel this shit now.”
DTD: For days! You know, I’ll eat bad one day, and then the next day, it’s like, “Ugh, I don’t want to eat breakfast. And I don’t want to eat lunch…” And its just gotten to be too much.
EML: Right. I miss my… I had the metabolism of a 20-something right up until a few years ago.
DTD: Ugh. I don’t know that I ever had that. I tried.
“Tried to have the metabolism of a 20-something.” This means I ate like I could handle it, but quickly and repeatedly learned I cannot.
EML: I miss it. So well, also part of it is, I learned late… [Pepsi arrives] Thank you. I learned late in life that, way too late in life, that I actually have a tropical… My body is actually tropical.
EML: It needs and desires a tropical climate. When I started visiting Singapore, like 10 years ago, and I just kept going back every year. Like, the stuff people complain about – the heat, the humidity. I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m home!”
DTD: You just thrive on that.
EML: I’m home! I feel like my skin is my natural color. My skin is naturally moisturized. I have infinite tolerance for heat.
DTD: Oh, I cannot…
I complain about the heat near me nearly all year long. Perfect weather for me is about 45 degrees [7 Celsius].
Waiter: Are you two ready to order?
DTD: [to Eric] Have you been able to…?
EML: Yeah, I have.
DTD: OK, why don’t you go ahead and go first.
EML: Oh, damn it! Called out! Called out!
Ha! Don’t say you’re ready to order if you’re not ready to order bucko.
DTD: You opened yourself up for that one!
EML: Can I ask you a quick question? The… Oh, you know what – no question. I’ll get the pan-seared Sea Bass, please.
Waiter: Yes sir, I like it.
Waiter: I like it. I said I like it.
EML: Oh yeah, yeah, me too. I mean, sounds great. There’s no cheese anywhere on this, right? It doesn’t look like it.
Waiter: Yeah, there’s no cheese. Pan-seared Sea Bass. And for you, sir?
Sea Bass is actually a name for a whole group of fish, appropriately including the Grouper. Probably not related to the common Bass.
DTD: I will go for the trout.
Waiter: That is good, too.
DTD: [laughs] I want to know which one you say is not good.
Waiter: I’ll tell you the truth, you know. Halibut, I don’t like it. I say I do not like halibut, it’s dry.
OK, this gentleman is now my favorite waiter ever. I have been told for ages what food the waiter thinks is good, and this is the first time they have told me what on the menu they dislike. I would take a bullet for this man. Or maybe a slightly overcooked breakfast pastry; something less dangerous.
DTD: It is, it’s really solid. It’s really dense. Yeah, I get it.
Waiter: I need something a little lighter, right? You want some more bread and butter?
EML: I’m good. But… You want some bread and butter?
DTD: Oh sure, sounds good.
EML: That’s what fills me up. So, I love bread and butter. I could just eat that.
DTD: My kids are all grown up now, but they can’t eat wheat, they can’t eat gluten. They have big issues, so when I’m home I never get that. So, when I go out, I am like, “I will have four bagels and toast and…”
EML: Yup. That’s right. I mean, my wife doesn’t drink, so I never get to. So, like, I have all this wine at home that I love, and… White you can drink, because you just put it in the fridge, right. But red, you don’t want it to sit there forever. So, whenever I go out, I drink red wine all the damn time!
I love this man.
DTD: Do you have a Coravin? This is the best thing I ever… My wife doesn’t drink either, and I live in Napa Valley, and I get nice red wine. It’s this argon injection system thing.
EML: OK, no, no it’s not what I thought you were going to say, no.
DTD: So, it’s this device, and it puts a needle through the cork, shoots in argon [gas]. And you turn it upside down. It shoots out the wine, and then when you take the needle out it seals up. So, you can pull one glass out of a bottle, you won’t ruin a bottle.
DTD: It’s the best thing I’ve found. It’s on Amazon.
For someone like me who hardly ever drinks wine, it’s a necessity. Pull one glass out, wait a month, then pull another. Wine still feels fresh.
Attention Coravin – feel free to send me toys.
EML: Alright, well this interview is going to be about wine, thank you very much.
DTD: Well, I trust you, it will not be as much about wine, as when I went out with Christian Petersen.
EML: Oh my God. Oh my God, Chris and… What a character!
Christian T Petersen is the founder of Fantasy Flight Games, ex-CEO of Asmodee, and quite the wine snoot. And I mean that in the best way imaginable.
DTD: I’m trying to get him to come out to the house in Napa Valley because he’s so into all of that.
EML: He is, and he loves… If you ever get a chance to eat dinner with him and Gilles Garnier from Edge [Studio].
Gilles Garnier is the French publisher for Steve Jackson Games, and President of Edge Studios. Edge was acquired by Asmodee in January 2017. Gilles Garnier was also the name of a famous serial killer and cannibal from 1573. Eric is almost certainly not talking about that one.
EML: Right, so Gilles is old school. He’s the Frenchiest French that ever Freched the French, right? And Chris is “nouveau sommelier,” so he’s like – he is all the obnoxiousness without the…
DTD: [laughs] Oh man.
EML: I love Chris. I say this as one of his best friends, right? And I tease him about this endlessly. He’s got all the obnoxious, but without the depth of experience. And Gilles just destroys him. It’s so fun.
DTD: Oh, man! I could barely keep up with him. I was doing pretty alright.
EML: With Chris? I’m sure you could. I’m sure you could.
DTD: Oh, no no no. I mean look at me. I don’t belong in that world, but I have so much fun just playing in it.
I think this is the best description I have put forth for what I do.
EML: [playing with his phone] Umm, what’s it called again?
DTD: Oh, coravin. [spelling] CORAVIN. And there’s a lot of models, and they’re all about 100 bucks, or maybe a little more. And they’re great. And it’s argon, so it doesn’t react with the wine at all. It just keeps the oxygen out.
EML: Right, that’s awesome.
DTD: And yeah, because if I open a bottle at home, no one drinks it except me.
EML: Yeah, same. Well I… because I have a… I’m not like Chris or Gilles, right? I used to work at a wine store. I worked for a… For the LCBO, which is the Liquor Board of Ontario. So, it was just a wine store, but they have this ridiculous… All it was, I was just a…
Our waiter brings in bread and butter. He gives me the nod, so I know for sure he approves.
DTD: Thank you.
EML: Thank you. I was just the store manager, right. But they had a ridiculous education requirement for it.
DTD: Oh wow, so you had to know your stuff.
EML: So, you have to take a sommelier… essentially the intro to a sommelier college course. And then you have to take a test in which you have to get 95% or higher, or you’re fired. After a year.
EML: So, I mean, I haven’t retained most of the… I didn’t take a lot of it, but what I liked about it was my… The wine education I got, the thing I got out of it, was to increase my taste sensitivity. And get better at pairings.
DTD: I’m still working on that.
I can appreciate good hooch, but can only fake the descriptive lingo.
EML: I take that everywhere. And it’s all about… It doesn’t matter about the snobbery or any of that s–t, it’s just about understanding your own taste better. Yeah. So, I’m like, “Oh my God, I like food better now”, because I know why I like certain… I know why I like certain pairings. I know how to elevate a meal from a 9 to a 10 for me, right?
DTD: It’s like, at that moment that… I’m more a scientist on that. I went to Graduate School, PhD, Neuroscience, all this business.
DTD: And when I started realizing, “Yeah, certain chemicals dissolve in the alcohols better than they dissolve in water, and you taste them!”
DTD: And especially, like tomatoes. And that pairing between red wine and tomato sauce, just… That’s what opened it all up for me.
Seriously, if you don’t put a splash of nice red wine in your marinara, you should.
EML: That’s right.
DTD: That one was just incredible. And now, living in the Napa Valley area, I go to all these tiny little wineries that nobody ever hears of unless you live there. And just discover fun stuff.
EML: Oh, that’s cool, that’s cool.
DTD: So, that’s what I like.
EML: Oh, that’s awesome. One day I will go to Napa. I will. It’s hard to just leave…
I can’t imagine anyone busier than Eric in board game design.
DTD: It’s an open invite, anytime you think you’re going to go. I’ve got a nice house with guest rooms, and you know, it’s all yours to play in Napa Valley however you want.
EML: The hardest part right now, the biggest challenge for me, is that like… Because we’re getting back into it, and I’m like, “God I miss traveling so much.”
DTD: But you’ve got to be so busy. [to waiter] Oh, thank you.
EML: But the thing is, it’s hard… I love traveling, and I would travel most of the year. The hard part is my wife doesn’t come with me on business travel. So it’s hard for me to justify doing a non-business trip without my wife.
DTD: I understand.
EML: And it isn’t she doesn’t like travel, but we traveled together to like Asia or South America, and so now she’s like, “Oh, I don’t want…” And she doesn’t have the stamina that I do for travel. So, it’s hard, but one day.
DTD: I get it. My wife hates traveling.
She has traveled, but now doesn’t think the hassle and anxiety of the actual travel warrants the vacation. So most trips more than 100 miles are just me on my lonesome. If you see me at a convention, come console me and say hi.
EML: Oh, my wife likes it, but she likes it in the way that like… That smart people, the annoying way that smart people like travel. So, she always builds up all this anxiety before we go, and then we go, and she’s like, “Oh my God, I loved it!” And I’m like, “Yup.” And of course, anxiety is like… There’s nothing you can do about it, right? And you can’t tell somebody “Don’t be anxious!”, right? That’s bulls–t.
DTD: [laughing] I was just gonna say that. You know, “Just stop being anxious.”
EML: [pompous deep voice] “Have you tried not being anxious?” [laughs]
DTD: “Thank you. Never did. All better. That’s awesome. That was wonderful.”
Come back next time for more visiting, more food, more anecdotes. Plus animals, childhood, and Vonnegut. The more I sit and chat with Eric, the more I feel we have in common – the man just exudes ease and acceptance.