Welcome back to a most glorious dinner with prolific board game designer Daryl Andrews. We are currently knee deep in a “Seafood Tower,” a gluttonous stack of shellfish, simply challenging us to dive ever deeper. Oh, and we are talking about board games. Between bites.
DTD: So, you were a board game junkie as a kid, and I’m… guessing you’re at least one generation younger than me, maybe two.
Daryl: Maybe. I’m ‘82.
DTD: Okay, I’m ‘68 so I was in high school in ‘82.
Yes, I am very old. I have shirts older than you.
Daryl: I just had my 40th at Dice Tower West.
DTD: Congratulations! Oh, I actually… I’d heard about that.
Daryl: I ate way too many good meals.
I would love to say that I have had the one and only extraordinary dinner with Daryl Andrews, but the man is famous for big elaborate dinners at conventions. He puts me to shame.
DTD: Vegas is the place to do that without any doubt.
Daryl: It was amazing.
DTD: So, what were your favorite games when you were a kid, then?
Daryl: Yeah, so there was Scotland Yard.
We had previously mentioned Scotland Yard (1983). Not only did this title from designers Manfred Burggraf, Dorothy Garrels, Wolf Hoermann, Fritz Ifland, Werner Scheerer, and Werner Schlegel win the Spiel des Jahres in 1983, but it really was ahead of its time; a one-vs-many, hidden movement game that formed the DNA for Fury of Dracula, Letters from Whitechapel, and Specter Ops.
DTD: Because that actually was even predating you a little bit. Scotland Yard was older than…
Daryl: Oh yeah. But no one, none of my friends knew of it.
DTD: I remember our games, when I was a kid – they were Aggravation, Rummikub. Which is still a great game.
Daryl: Oh yeah, I played a lot of Rummikub.
DTD: Yeah, but that was about it, and I started seeking out the Avalon Hill Games and the 3M box sets and you had to drive really far away.
The Avalon Hill titles and the 3M series of games were one of the only sources of deeper, more modern type board games in the early 1980’s.
Daryl: For me, it was even… Like I didn’t know where you’d get them, so I would often like a garage sale I’d find a game, or a neighbor had something. Definitely Stop Thief was a huge one for me. I played a lot of that when I was a kid.
DTD: I remember when that came out! I got that one and that was amazing.
Daryl: [about the food] Pass you some of this one?
DTD: Ooh! Oh, the mussels, yes!
Marinated mussels – delightful. The tower of seafood was not going to eat itself mind you.
Daryl: Um…What else was there in my childhood? Man, I even… I played a lot of Risk, but we would house rule of ton of stuff.
DTD: Well, I think everybody did.
Daryl: And so, I loved that. I really played Risk, even all the way up to… in college. We had a Risk “league.” My favorite at college was that we had over 3 pages of things that we would vote on, before we could start. Because every time there was like a new thing that…
DTD: Just to figure out house rules.
Daryl: House rules. Because there would be like, “Oh, remember that game where so-and-so chose to roll the wrong number of dice every time, so they would lose, so that so-and-so could just take them over?” We were like, “Now, you can’t purposely roll the wrong number of dice.” Because in the rule book it would say if you rolled the wrong number of dice, you automatically lost.
That is some amazing letter-of-the-law stuff there.
Daryl: And it’d be like, “Why should we vote on that?” Because one person was an a–hole, and used that rule. And sometimes we gotta vote on it. Yeah, it was super nerdy… and glorious.
DTD: [laughs] Like most things are! I remember Dungeon and Talisman.
Daryl: Yep. I didn’t get into Talisman, but I definitely remember Dungeon!
Dungeon! (1975) by designer David R. Megarry was truly world changing for me. It was the first board game that used real role playing elements. You took a character into a dungeon, fought monsters, leveled up, gained items. It was an amazing board game.
DTD: Well, my single-minded goal through most of my childhood was finding a game that was a role-playing game made into a board game.
DTD: Man, I tried so hard to find those, not knowing they just weren’t out there.
Daryl: Right. …Yet!
DTD: Now, I have more than I know what to do with.
Daryl: That’s funny. I even had games that were adjacent to popular games I was really obsessed with. Like, I had a game called Boardwalk. It was like Monopoly, but it had skyscrapers. I loved… Milton Bradley had a game called Hotels. I loved that game. I was obsessed with it!
Hotel by British designer Denys Fisher was eventually renamed Hotel Tycoon in 2014. Denys Fisher also designed the 1975 Doctor Who board game.
DTD: Yeah! Oh man, I’m remembering all these old Milton Bradley games. Bonkers!
Daryl: Yup, I remember Bonkers.
I loved Bonkers, or more accurately titled “This Game Is Bonkers.” It was a roll and move game, but players changed any space they landed on, adding tiles to “move two ahead” or “move 3 backward” or “reroll dice.” It was an insane luck-fest.
DTD: Where you put a tile on every space you landed on. That changed the roll and move – that was crazy.
Daryl: So with those, I kind of like discovered, loved, defined myself as someone that for Christmas and birthdays wanted a game. They morphed into… By the time I got into College I was getting into Catan. getting into Puerto Rico. Just like, starting to see these other games that were popular.
DTD: It was past the wave when they were starting to come in.
Daryl: Right, exactly – I must have played Catan and Puerto Rico every week for a few years.
DTD: I believe it.
The Settlers of Catan is generally credited as starting the great influx of European board games into the US in 1995. Puerto Rico was not far behind, coming to stores in 2002.
Daryl: And I remember even when I moved out of college, I found…
Waitress: Sorry for interrupting, how is everything?
DTD: Oh, so good!
Daryl: So good.
Waitress: Do you guys think you’ll need anything else, or are we just kind of taking it slow here?
Spoiler – there will be more food. One tower is not enough.
DTD: We’ll take it one step at a time here. But this is awesome!
Waitress: Perfect, perfect.
Daryl: Wow. That’s nice. I had low expectations for these [food].
Daryl had just picked our restaurant, Tide and Vine, randomly. But the food was amazingly good. Of course, everything tastes better in a tower.
DTD: Oh, this is amazing. [lots of smacking noises] So, did you start by like modifying rules on the ones [games] you had?
Daryl: Yeah, I was house ruling. Even, like… I recently discovered… I was cleaning out some stuff and I found some High School projects, where instead of presentations, I made board games as my presentation.
DTD: Oh, that’s cool.
Daryl: I made a game of Gettysburg, with all these custom rules. I just found the board recently, and I was like “Huh.” Like, I was doing this back then, but in my mind that was just a school project, and I liked games. And it never crossed my mind that it would be a job. Never. And then I did multiple jobs, and it wasn’t until way later in my life, that I met a few game designers, and I played some board games in a tournament. And I started thinking, like “Yeah, I could make maybe a game.” But before then, it was never an idea.
DTD: So, is that what turned your mind around, is you met designers?
Daryl: Yeah, I ran this thing called “The Great Canadian Boardgame Blitz.” And we ran 20 tournaments across Canada at game stores. And we would always do one round where we featured only Canadian games.
Daryl: And that, all of a sudden, made me research, like – What games are made by Canadians? And I had no idea. And then I found out, “Oh, this person is from Toronto…”, or “This person is from BC…”. And there was one that lived in London, Ontario. And I lived in London, Ontario, and I went, “Well, I gotta look this guy up.” And I looked him up, it was Sen-Foong Lim.
DTD: Oh seriously? Wow.
Sen-Foong Lim has designed such classic games as Junk Art, Belfort, Akrotiri, and the recent hit Mind MGMT. Often in partnership with fellow Canadian Jay Cormier.
Daryl: And I was like, “Hey, I love your games. We feature them in these tournaments. Could I meet you?” And he was like, “Just come over and play games.” I came over, and we played games. I got my first experience playtesting.
DTD: That’s fantastic!
Daryl: And originally, I was like, “Oh, this is cool. That’s all I need.” But then, it was actually… [laughs] It sounds bad… A designer came over and wanted to pitch their first game to Sen. And Sen just was like, “Hey come over as well, and listen to this.” I’m sure in Sen’s mastermind, he was grooming me. But I sat down and waited for this guy to present a game, and instead he just put down a huge binder. And he said… We were like, “Oh, are those cards?” He’s like, “No, no, no, they’re spreadsheets.” He opened it up and he’s like, “This is all the math to my game idea.”
DTD: Don’t start with that.
Daryl: I was just like, “Where’s the game? Like, what’s a turn?”
DTD: And he was like, “No, no, no. I’ve been working years on these spreadsheets.”
Speaking as a kid who purchased Excel for fun, I’d play that game.
Daryl: And I’m like, “OK. But is it like a card game…? Like, what is it?” And he said, “I’m still figuring that out.” And I remember that guy left, and I turned to Sen, and I was like, “Well, if that guy can call himself a game designer, then maybe I can design a game.” And the next week I came up with a prototype, and I never stopped.
Daryl: So, I don’t know. Maybe it was the challenge of seeing someone else, but that got me going.
DTD: Oh, I love it. So, what was what was your first game? I mean, I can look it up on BGG, but often that’s not it.
Daryl is listed as designer on 73 titles on BGG. The first dated title is City of Gears (2012) co-designed with Chris Leder. Although next time, Daryl claims another game as first…
Daryl: No. My first game I made never… I don’t know if I even pitched it. It was an alien invasion game. You know when you punch out a game, and you have the leftover piece?
DTD: The sprue.
Thank you Mister Lexicon.
Daryl: The sprue. It was almost a grid, the sprue. But it was like a game… Might’ve been “Castles of Burgundy” or something like that, where there’s lots of little squares. And then there was multiple sheets of them. So I made everyone get one of those sprues, so that they matched. And I said, “Oh, the colors are different neighborhoods in a city: That’s Chinatown, that’s Little Italy…” And so, it was a grid pattern of streets and blocks. And then I found this little round plastic grid thing that had a few closed in spots, and a few open grid spots. And I later found out it was a laundry vent cap.
DTD: Oh, OK!
Daryl: And I said that was the UFO. And you would load a few cubes, and then you’d fly it into your city, and they would jump out and invade the city. And the cubes would be in the little neighborhoods. And that was the game – you passed the UFO.
DTD: Laundry caps and sprues.
Daryl: Laundry caps and sprues. That was my first game! And we had little tanks that we had moving around, and you had to move them in the right direction to kill off the aliens, as they were dropping in. And then it was area control – you could compare. And at the end, you could be like, “How many do you have in Chinatown?” “Oh, I have four aliens.” “Oh, I only had three.” “OK, so I’ve won, because I killed off more of the aliens in that neighborhood.” And that was the game.
DTD: Oh, that’s awesome.
Daryl: One of my inspirations was a little dice game by TMG [Tasty Minstrel Games]. And it had an alien – I can’t even remember the name of it… It had aliens on it, cows, chickens. And it was just like dice in a little cup.
DTD: It’s not ringing a bell.
I am pretty sure Daryl is referring to Martian Dice (2011) designed by the tiny epic master himself, Scott Almes.
Daryl: I have to look it up, but it was just like a little cup-dice game, standalone.
DTD: How cool. Like a Zombie Dice kind of thing?
Daryl: Yeah. It was exactly like Zombie Dice, but with aliens.
DTD: That’s the pitch. “This is just like Zombie Dice, but with aliens.”
Daryl: Aliens … with a twist.
DTD: Ooh…I’ll sign it!
The running joke among publishers is that so many pitches are “It’s just like Catan, but…” or “It’s just like Monopoly, but…” By the way, these “just like, but” pitches never earn praise.
Daryl: Early on, my dream was I was gonna sign it with TMG. And say, “Here, you can sell this whole game that adds to your little dice game.”
DTD: Oh, that’s cool.
Daryl: You can do the reverse. Like, everyone does big games and little dice games, and I was like, “Oh, if you made a big game of that little dice thing…”
DTD: [pointing at the sauce] That’s pretty nicely intense. That’s hot.
Daryl: Yeah? Oh, I’m excited.
DTD: I mean, it’s got a great flavor to it: it’s sweet, it’s fruity.
I have always enjoyed the fruity quality of Habaneros and Scotch Bonnet peppers.
Daryl: Oh yeah? Wow. That’s a lot going on.
DTD: I like hot food a lot.
Daryl: Yeah, sounds like it.
DTD: But if you have Scorpion Peppers or these Nagas, or things that are just hot… I don’t want that.
Chili pepper spiciiness is measured on the Scoville scale. Originally this scale measured how many squirts of a sugar solution you needed to spray on your tongue to get rid of the burning sensation. Historically the spiciest chili peppers were Habaneros or Scotch Bonnets at about 300,000. However, hotter varieties started to become popular in the early 1990s, including the Ghost Pepper at 1M Scoville, the Naga Viper at 1.3M Scoville, the Trinidad Scorpion at 1.4M, and the Carolina Reaper at 1.6M Scoville.
Daryl: Oh, wow. This is a lot here.
DTD: Oh, these are thick.
Daryl: Yeah, I wasn’t anticipating, but I’m excited.
DTD: Habaneros, though, are so fruity and flavorful.
See? Told you Corey likes that.
Daryl: Right. You’ve become the connoisseur of the hot pepper, it sounds like.
DTD: I like food.
Daryl: I love it.
DTD: A huge amount of my life revolves around food.
Daryl: Same! My mom went to culinary school.
DTD: Oh wow, that’s amazing!
Daryl: She went to Le Cordon Bleu in London, and they came back and ran catering companies and restaurants.
DTD: That is so cool! That is awesome, man.
Daryl: And so, I come by it honestly. The funny part always, was all my friends would come over for meals, but I would always argue like, “No, no, I want to go to your house. You’re having KD!” And my mom would be like crying, “I made you Beef Wellington!” I’m like, “Oh, you’re having tacos?” Or like, “Sloppy Joes???”
For those who do not know, and I was until recently one of those… KD is the Canadian brand for Kraft Mac and Cheese. It stands for Kraft Dinner. In Britain, the brand is called Cheesey Pasta.
DTD: That’s awesome. My mom didn’t cook. So we had TV dinners. Pretty much nothing but. Take-out and TV dinners.
Daryl: Really? So, did you find…? When did food become interesting to you, or were you intrigued even back then, but you just didn’t…?
DTD: Well, we went out to eat a lot. So I kind of knew “good” going-out and “not good” going-out. But when I went to college, I actually looked for a college that was as far away from home as I could get.
Daryl: Mmm, wanted some space.
I just want to interject that the audio recording of this conversation is just loaded with wonderfully appreciative eating noises from both Daryl and myself. It makes me hungry every time I listen.
DTD: So, I grew up in New Jersey, went to college in California.
Waitress: How’s everything?
DTD: Oh, it is so good!
Daryl: Everything is amazing.
And as a reminder, I love our waitress. I would run away to Canada with her if she asked. If she kept feeding me.
DTD: My parents gave me a Visa. It’s like “yeah, it’s for emergencies;” You know, you get that a lot. But they also said, “A couple times a month, just take a big group of people out to eat.” And so, we would, you know… I’d have a group of friends, there would be like five of us, and we’d be singing, you know:
And we would go out to eat. As long as it was just restaurants, my parents were totally cool with it.
My deepest apologies to Pete Townshend.
Daryl: Amazing. What a great way to support… And make sure you’re having a good meal in you. Make sure you’re meeting people.
DTD: I thought it was a fantastic idea. Make friends, I mean, what better ways to make friends than buy them a lot of food?
Daryl: And over a table. Like, meeting each other again.
DTD: What I’m doing now!
Daryl: Exactly! You come by it naturally.
DTD: That’s it.
Daryl: You’re naturally hospitable. That’s interesting.
It’s going on my business cards – “naturally hospitable”.
DTD: So that kind of started it.
Daryl: Did you have any favorite foods or go-to’s?
DTD: Oh man, just different.
Daryl: Yeah, you just want to try stuff.
DTD: I’ve always wanted to go someplace where I don’t have to pick. Where they just bring me things. Because the picking and the deciding was always the hardest part.
One of my favorite things to do in college was to go to any drive-through late at night, mumble quickly in the speaker, and see what they gave me when I drove up to the window.
Daryl: That wasn’t enjoyable.
DTD: No, no, I just want something exciting, that just shows up. So, I had, you know, a favorite sushi place where I knew the chef. And I’d sit down and be like, “Just bring me things.”
Daryl: Surprise me! That’s always the best way to do it. Yeah.
DTD: When I owned my veterinary hospital, we had a regular thing on Fridays, that I’d go out to my sushi place. And anybody who went with me, and had something they’d never had before, got it free.
Daryl: That’s a great rule.
Natto would earn you several free meals.
DTD: I always liked just trying everything that was out there. And I’ve lucked out, I’ve lived in a lot of places that have some really good food. So I’ve done French Laundry now Like 5-6 times.
Daryl: That’s the dream spot for me.
Chef Thomas Keller‘s The French Laundry in Yountville, California is considered one of the world’s best restaurants. Plus it was the model kitchen for the movie Ratatouille.
DTD: If you come, we will try to make it happen. I live about 20-30 minutes from French Laundry. And the hard part is their reservations are a pain in the butt.
Daryl: I bet. Yeah, there’s not a lot of places on my must-hit list, but that’s one of them.
DTD: The good news is, if you don’t get in French Laundry, there’s a hundred other places that are, you know, worth writing home and changing your religion over. [pointing to the food] That tuna is great.
Daryl: Go for it. It was amazing.
DTD: Wow. I love all that stuff. And then… What I was going to say Is, I think I probably did my kids a disservice. Because I took them out for snooty food.
DTD: And then they’d go somewhere else with their friends, and they’d, you know, ask… Talk about snooty food. But, uh, I think secretly they just wanted hamburgers and hot dogs.
Daryl: Right. Well, I think looking back, sometimes I did it just to be rebellious. Like, no matter what, we all want to rebel, right?
NO WE DON’T
DTD: You always want something different.
Daryl: So, the funny part for me was, I was rebelling, wanting a hot dog or a Sloppy Joe, because I had access to amazing food. And my mom would always challenge me to try everything. And in hindsight, I love that attitude.
DTD: That’s what I did too.
Daryl: But I still was kind of sticking it to authority by saying, “I want a peanut butter and jam sandwich.” [laughs]
Jam, not Jelly. Sounds so much classier.
DTD: [pointing to food] I got both of these over on my side, if you want to, you wanna dig in. I’ve eaten a lot of the mussels. But this octopus is incredible.
Daryl: Let me take a few. Yeah, I mean there’s nothing bad I have eaten here.
DTD: No, I love this place.
Daryl: Oh, I should take some of this horseradish.
DTD: It was really mild.
I left this all in on purpose, so that you, the reader, can be as hungry as me. And I actually got to eat it all.
Daryl: Yeah, it looks… So I should pile it up on this…
DTD: So, I’ve always liked food. I had to kind of cook for myself at times, so started cooking and enjoying cooking, and discovering weird stuff.
Daryl: I think that was a major factor for me, too. Because when you have to cook, you start figuring, “Ah, I’ll try this out” or “This is like this”. My mum traveled a lot for work, and I guess I just grew up too fast, but my mom would leave me on my own for a week or two at a time. Single parent, have to make do, didn’t have money to do…
DTD: You do what you gotta do.
Daryl: Yeah. You know, some people thought it was horrific. I loved it, because it just instantly made me kind of feel like a grown-up. Made me cook. It was glorious.
DTD: I totally get it. My dad traveled, and was a really obsessive worker. He, literally my entire childhood: Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Go to bed.
Daryl: That’s because he was working so much.
DTD: It was out of passion – He loved what he did.
One time he went to work and couldnt understand why the doors were locked and no one was around. It was Christmas.
Daryl: You said he was a programmer?
Daryl: That’s awesome. And was that inspiring? Frustrating? All of the above?
DTD: It was neat. I had access to a lot of computer stuff before anybody. So, I was playing computer games in ‘74.
Daryl: Ahead of everyone else.
DTD: Playing Zork, you know five years before it showed up on PCs.
Text adventures, such as Adventure and Zork were around on the mainframe computers years before they hit the PC market. Adventure, also known as the Colossal Cave Adventure, first showed up in 1976, and Zork followed in 1977.
DTD: Because it was on… Well, the story is, my dad created an operating system – UNIX – and he says… UNIX comes with personal directories, and all this, for all the users. And one of the personal directories is just called /usr/games. And it came with … games, and he says that he put all those there to entertain me when I was like 4. I don’t remember. They were always around.
Daryl: That’s hilarious.
DTD: So, I always played these things.
Daryl: Right, it was just second nature.
DTD: And it’s… I didn’t go into it as a job or a career, or even in school. Because it seemed so normal. It didn’t seem like something you should learn about, or work at, or any of that. It was just there.
Daryl: It just was part of your life.
I was using the UNIX mainframes for as long as I can remember. My parents say I started at about 3 or 4 years old.
DTD: It’s like saying, “I’m going to major in pencils.”
Daryl: Did you ever feel any pressure to go one way or another?
DTD: No. They were very, very good about it. Anything I wanted to do was fine.
Daryl: That’s good. Amazing.
I was very aware of what my Dad did, and made a conscious effort not to compete, not to enter the same field. I often wonder how I would have done if I had followed in his footsteps.
DTD: I’m very thankful for that. Dad was kind of well-known, so people would always come to the house and visit and stay. And that was great exposure; it was people from every country, all over the place.
Daryl: I loved having people in my house growing up. Because you would just…
DTD: Only kid. You know it broke up the monotony, and it was great. I got to hang out with the grownups.
Daryl: Yeah, my mom, because of cooking, was always, “Come for the meal here.”
DTD: That’s so awesome.
Daryl: She was just crazy generous. I look back, and I think like, my mom was almost struggling at times to pay the bills, but there’s always six people around her table. And I was like… I had no idea.
DTD: I love it.
Daryl: As an adult I now understand, but as a kid, I just was like, I never felt like we were hurting. There was always people around.
DTD: We always had these nerdy computer guys come to the house who were socially awkward and didn’t know what to do. And my mom was the social glue, was a social butterfly. So she’d make everybody comfortable. That was pretty amazing. Then dad got into Chess very, very heavily. So we had a lot of big Chess people come to the house.
Funny. Socially awkward gamers. Who would have thunk?
Daryl: Interesting. Do you play Chess?
DTD: Ah, very badly. But I never really enjoyed it. I thought it was neat, and I would always change the rules. Because standard Chess just didn’t do it for me.
Daryl: Cool. Right, so you were looking for a way to make it more interesting. Did any of the people that would come by, try to like…?
DTD: Oh, they all wanted to play with me. So, I joke around that I’ve played Chess against most of the more famous grandmasters.
Daryl: That’s wild.
DTD: I’ve played [Garry] Kasparov, and I’ve played… Because he’d come to the house.
Daryl: That’s such a bizarre world.
DTD: It was a weird world. [laughs] When did you turn the tables on me, and start interviewing me? I think that’s cheating.
Daryl: I mean, this is my life.
DTD: Very Canadian of you.
Daryl: Yeah. But it’s two ways.
DTD: It is. No, no, I’m just giving you a hard time. [laughs]
Daryl: It is very Canadian. [laughs] We know our moves.
Next time Daryl talks more about his early designs, playtesting, and getting his first games published. Plus, the seafood tower is solidly and decidedly defeated. Honestly, it didnt stand a chance.