July 2020 Newsletter for the BGDG of Utah

Guild Update

COVID and Guild Playtest Meetings
EDIT: Currently we are allowing playtest facilitators for each location to determine if meetings will be held, as long as they fall within state guidelines. Updates on the status of these meetings will be announced via our BGDG of Utah’s Facebook Group.

Discord and the Guild
The BGDG of Utah’s Discord is a great way to get to know those in the guild and discuss all things game design! If you’ve not joined yet, we’d love to have you come and participate with us!

For those who are interested, you can have one of many skill-roles assigned to you on our discord! That way someone looking for an artist, graphic designer, blind playtester or any other skill can be found by typing “@@ artist” or “@@playtester” etc. Contact @Dustin or @Lyle on discord to have a skill-role added to your profile.

Chandler Copenhaver, with CrowdOX, has also started a Discord called CO-Games & Geeks that focuses on online playtesting. He’s really doing a great job in encouraging the community he’s building to try out games currently in development. Feel free to join up and add your game to the list! In addition to this, Wednesday nights have been set aside as their primary Game Night from 7pm EST to 12pm EST (5pm-10pm MDT).

Upcoming/Current Events

June BGDG of Utah Business Meeting
Our next business meeting will be taking place on Saturday, July 18th (this will be facilitated online only). The link to the Facebook Group post is here.

EDIT: Recently Published Games/Expansions
Healthy Heart Hospital: Nurse Expansion designed by Scott Nelson, published by Victory Point Games
Deep Vents designed by T. Alex Davis, published by Red Raven Games

Current Kickstarter Projects from Guild Members
Intrepid by Jeff Beck

Recently Completed Kickstarters from Guild Members
Dawnshade by Jett Ryker
Bristol 1350 by Travis Hancock
Salt and Sail by Justin Potter
Though not a member yet I thought I’d mention Ammon Anderson’s Kickstarter Project T.A.C.O. as he’s been active on discord with us and would likely be a member if not for the COVID situation.

Current Contests
Ravensburger Game Inventor Days (7/08)
Design an 18 Card Worker Placement Game (7/31)

Fugitive Online from Tim Fowers
Tim and Fowers Games has launched an online version of his successful game Fugitive www.playfugitive.com

Spellweaving 101
Robin Armstrong has made his game Spellweaving 101 available as a free Print and Play. He has also made the game available on Tabletop Simulator if you’d like to check it out there instead.

Game Design Highlights by Skye Larsen

In my university literature classes, there were a few key essays I ended up studying over and over again, like Saussure’s “Course in General Linguistics” or Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author.” Because they covered essential ideas about language and the relationship between author and audience, it was important for students to grapple with those essays until they truly understood them.

This month I was wondering what some of the “key essays” on game design would be. While my list will probably change in the future, here are four articles (and a bonus one!) that I think cover some vital topics in board game design.

Mark Rosewater “Ten Things Every Game Needs”

Mark is probably the most prolific game design thinker around, thanks to writing a weekly column for nearly two decades and starting a podcast on top of that. While many of his works focus heavily on designing for Magic the Gathering, some of his thoughts focus on games in a broader sense.

This article talks about what makes a game engaging. While designers could certainly push back on some of these ten things (does every game need interaction?) there are a lot of great insights here. When I first started designing games, I used this list as a sort of checklist to make sure I wasn’t leaving any holes in my game. It can be all too easy to gloss over things like inertia or catch-up mechanics when you first put together a design.

Stefan Barton-Ross “Extended Player Psychographics”

While Stefan—a designer and scholar—seems to be a more-than-competent scholar and writer about games, I include this article mostly because he merges several different player psychographic systems into one useful overview. Some of these psychographics actually stem from Mark Rosewater once again, while Richard Bartle and Roger Caillois are included as well.

As someone who loves pop psychology tests like the color personality test or Myers Briggs test, I will also be the first one to admit that they can be used incorrectly and can unfairly put people into boxes. But as long as psychographics are used judiciously, I believe they can help designers make better decisions once they know what different types of players prefer.

Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim “Constraints are Good”

Jay and Sen are frequent co-designers together, and they apparently co-write their blog posts too! There are probably other great articles written on this subject, but I love how concise this one was.

Generally speaking, constraints might seem…well…confining, as the name suggests. But one of the biggest “creative truths” I’ve discovered with my personal writing and design is that constraints spark creativity. I know that several guild members have participated in the ButtonShy game design challenges, and this article goes into why challenges like this can actually help game design be less challenging.

Gil Hova “No, Victory Points Don’t Suck”

Gil Hova plays host on the popular Ludology podcast, but used the written word to respond to a talk given at SHUX (Shut Up and Sit Down convention) in 2018. That talk, given by writer Scott Westerfeld, criticized board games’ reliance on victory points and how that affects the game’s narrative impact.

While I haven’t watched Scott’s talk, I imagine I would glean some useful information from it. But I think Gil Hova does a great job breaking down how board games are a different medium from films or books, and that victory points don’t inherently, objectively “suck.” There’s also a good discussion in this article about orthogames—games with a clear objective and winner—and different types of game arcs.

Bonus: Liz England “The Door Problem”

I also design video games, and I think this is the single most helpful bit of game design discussion I ever encountered. After trying to explain game design over and over to relatives, friends, and acquaintances, this article finally gave me the tools to explain what exactly a game designer does. I don’t think this problem is quite as bad in board games (mostly because board games don’t have programmers), but it might still help you explain what a board game designer does to people who don’t play many games.

Interview with Jaron Frost

Personal Questions

What’s your backstory?  Tell us about you and how you got into game design.

Hi Dustin! Thanks for the chance to do this interview. As for my background, I played classics like Monopoly and Clue as a kid, but most of my love for game design comes from video games originally. My friends and I were into Pokemon, and we naturally got into the trading card game too. I remember having the impression that everyone my age had a deck of Pokemon cards and could be challenged to a game, and that was exciting for me. Over the years, various friends introduced me to more modern tabletop games like Catan, Forbidden Island, Pandemic, and Sushi Go. I still play more video games than tabletop games, but I love learning how to play new games–I recently learned Magic, Scythe, and Shogi, all through various digital platforms.

Can you walk us through your design process?  Do you start with specific themes in mind or want to utilize certain mechanisms?

I get some of both. Sometimes I’ll be inspired by a certain mechanic in another game, and I’ll start thinking about ways I can build a game around it or combine it with something else in an interesting way. I like custom dice and legacy mechanics–something that combines those and lets you customize your dice over time sounds really fun to me. But other times, there will be a theme that sounds fun and gets me thinking about game ideas. Bees and ants are a common example of this for me. Their real-life social structures and the types of things they do are a natural fit for worker placement and area control games. Villages started as a variant of Rummy, and could be played with playing cards. But I wanted more than just a number and suit to work with, and I was already doing pixel art for a video game, so things just fell into place that way.

How did you come to be involved with the guild?

I think I joined the guild around 2014, after I had finished my Kickstarter for Villages. A friend of mine was working on a game and invited me to the guild to help them test it. I found a lot of like-minded people there, and it was exciting to see other designers developing their ideas. It’s a fun energy to be around! The guild helped me a lot with my second game, Swords & Souls. I really appreciate the candor and passion our guild members have, even if I don’t make it to as many meetings as I would like to.

If you could pick 3 games that every designer should have to play, as a sort of game design curriculum, what would you choose?

Ooh, that’s a tough one. My experience is probably more limited than most, but I think Pandemic, Catan, and Magic are good archetypes of their respective genres, and are all very successful for a reason.

Game Related Questions

Villages is sort of your flagship title.  JT Smith from the Game Crafter has really loved this title, as have many others.  Could you tell us what makes Villages so great?

Sure! I think the fun thing about Villages is gathering these little characters together and imagining their adventures. The game uses classic fantasy stereotypes, which come with preconceptions about personalities and game mechanics. Creating a village with a builder, princess, and goblin together raises questions immediately–how did these three come to live together peacefully? When the orc attacks, who steps up to defend the town? Everyone knows a dragon is a powerful beast, and that a knight’s duty is to slay it. But sometimes, it’s the court jester who slays the dragon! Being able to see these little stories play out via their game mechanics is fun. Plus, there are so many different characters with unique abilities that you could play a dozen times and still discover new ways to use them together.

What design challenges did you have to face when designing Villages?

In Villages, you need 3 cards of the same color to build a village. The first couple versions of the game had 8 possible colors, and that meant gathering 3 of one color was pretty tough sometimes. Plus, I had so many different characters that including 1 of each color would have made the game huge (and expensive). I minimized these problems in a few ways. Removing 2 of the colors helped players make sets and cut down on the total number of cards. Plus, I realized that I didn’t need to include every character in every color–by giving each color a unique set of characters, but similar overall value, it not only cut down on the number of cards in the game, but it gave each color a different theme. For example, green has more defensive cards, yellow has cards that focus on gold, and red has powerful attackers. I don’t think this is something many players even notice at first, but it adds texture to the game and is something an observant player could use to their advantage.

You’ve got a number of expansions for Villages.  What’s it like designing expansions for a game?  Was it easier or more difficult than designing the game itself?

Most of the Villages expansions were basically spillover from the original game. There were too many characters, so I had to choose some to move into expansion packs. In that regard, those were easy! A few of our later expansions were created as collaborations with our Kickstarter backers. Those were more difficult–some backers were receptive to our design guidance and decisions, but others insisted on specific mechanics or power levels that didn’t work as well. This year, I finished the most recent expansion, Crystal Quest, after basically leaving the game alone since 2015. Coming back to Villages after changing so much as an artist and designer was difficult. I really struggled with the temptation to redesign the entire game as a new edition. But in the end, I’m glad I went with a new product that was compatible with the older material. It may be old, but people still like it. I don’t want to disregard that just because I’m critical of my own work.

What can we expect from the Villages line in the future?

As you can probably tell from the 5-year gap since the last expansion, I am pretty slow coming out with new things! But I’m currently working with a manufacturer to produce a new big Villages box, big enough to contain an entire collection in sleeves. That’s something players have been asking for for a long time. I may also want to collaborate with players again on another small expansion that builds on Crystal Quest’s new monster and treasure mechanics.

You’ve got another game you’ve been working on, Arcvale.  Could you tell us about designing that?

The folder name on my computer for Arcvale is “Villages 2,” which should give you some idea of where the idea came from! In many ways, this game is building on the desire I mentioned before to refresh Villages. It’s still about building a civilization out of little pixel characters, but this version takes more inspiration from PC RTS games like Age of Empires and Starcraft. You’ve got your own customizable LCG-style deck of 18 cards, battles involving multiple units, a more specific world setting, and (hopefully) a solo / co-op story mode. And I would love to support player-generated content in an official capacity through a card creator page on my website and the ability to buy real-life versions of custom cards, which is something I’ve already started doing with Villages. It’s a huge concept, but I’m happy with how the 2-player versus mode is going so far. I’ll be bringing this game to the guild many times in the future, I’m sure!

You often have a booth at SaltCON, what has your experience been like running a booth?

It’s been fun! It’s a great chance to meet and chat with people in the hobby, and playing Villages demos with people always reminds me how much I still enjoy it. I’m not a natural salesperson by any means, so I might not get as much out of it as I could from a financial standpoint, but it’s still usually profitable, and the experience of connecting directly with players and other designers is really valuable. Visits from other guild members are often among the highlights of my convention experiences.

I believe your wife has helped out at the booth, has she also been a part of the design process?

Yes, she helps a lot. She’s even less of a tabletop gamer than I am, so one of my benchmarks for my game designs is whether or not she’ll play it with me. It’s not the only important metric, of course, but it helps me get in more playtests! One of my inspirations for adding a solo mode to Arcvale is so that I (and other players) can enjoy it by themselves, even if they don’t always have someone to play with.

Final Wrap up Questions

How would you suppose the guild could improve to better assist in the game development process?

That’s a tough question! The guild offers so many opportunities and resources already. I appreciate the addition of the Discord group and multiple meeting locations throughout the month. I just need to get off my butt and make it to the meetings! Thanks for everything you and the other leaders do to keep the guild going. It’s really a great resource.

If people wanted to contact you or follow your game designs how should they go about that?

The best place to find all my game design stuff and contact info is on my website, fridgecrisis.com. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram–just search for Fridgecrisis Games and you should be able to find me.

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