So, as I was writing up my review of Caravan, I remembered having a conversation with Joe about the game at a convention we had both attended in January (T5 – That Terrific Trick Taking Thing). Rather than make up the details, I decided to have an email interview with Joe so that I could share some of the interesting information about the origin of the game with you.
DY: Joe – thanks for taking a minute out of your busy day to do this email interview with the Opinionated Gamers. Your new game Caravan just came out from Rio Grande Games. How did you end up coming up with this game idea? Did you have a dream about camels and cubes? Was there some abstract game mechanism that you found in another game that caught your eye?
JH: Thanks, Dale. Caravan started, of all places, with Tanga. Back when Tanga was largely selling off games from Überplay, they sold a number of copies of Oasis, a nice game from Alan Moon & Aaron Weissblum. Well, I picked up a number of extra copies so I could use the components for various game design projects. Among other things, the square tiles in the game proved to be ideal for prototyping the goods in Starship Merchants. But while I used the tiles and boards and boxes a number of times, I had collected quite a collection of camels – and hadn’t found a use for them. So Caravan came about because I was thinking of just what I might be able to use all of those camels for.
DY: Interesting! I remember once owning and liking Oasis, but a quite review of my gameroom shows that I no longer own it. I had to look it up on BGG to remember how it was played! You must have had a lot of camels built up – since each Oasis includes a hundred! Was your plan always to balance a cube in between the humps? Or is this just something you remember Dan Blum doing to pass the time while you were playing Oasis?
JH: To be honest, the camels from Oasis weren’t ideally suited for balancing cubes. But yes, that was part of the game from the start – at least when players didn’t get frustrated and just lay their camels down, placing the cubes on top. (The cubes used in the prototype were much smaller, which is the only way there was even a chance of balancing them.)
DY: So this game was always a pick-up-and-deliver sort of thing? Or were you originally delivering the camels?!
JH: No, the camels were always delivering goods, to specific locations on the board. The basic layout of the board never changed – it was always a 7×7 grid of spaces, with the more valuable goods delivered to the edges of the board, and the common goods to the center.
DY: But the board to oasis is much bigger than 7×7! You didn’t repurpose the boards as well?
JH: Actually, I did repurpose the board – but not from Oasis; instead, from one of my earlier designs which also used a 7×7 board. For most of my prototypes, I tend to use Kosmos 2-player series boxes and boards, since they’re compact and therefore easy to store and to transport. I did the same for Caravan; the prototype fit (barely) in a Crocodile Pool Party box, using a board from (as I recall) Tally Ho!. I might even have used a marked-up Tally Ho board for the first play…
DY: yes, I have a number of your other prototypes/self published games in Crocodile Pool Party boxes. A much better use than the original purpose…. So, is this sort of process the norm for you – to use extra bits to motivate you to create a game around them?
JH: I don’t really have a norm. I’ve designed games starting with the theme, starting with components, starting with a mechanism (or more), starting with a question (Transportation Tricks started when I asked myself what Sid Sackson might do with a trick taking card game to make it different, for instance), and so on. Many ideas come from other ideas that didn’t work, even.
DY: Can you elaborate on how you went from an excess of camels to Caravan? Was it always a pick up and deliver style game?
JH: Yes, the game came very quickly together in it’s published form. I quickly came upon the idea of goods being moved along a group of camels. To me, this felt different from other pick-up and deliver games, as usually the vehicle carrying the good moves, rather than passing the good along.
DY: I really like the way that there is constant tension with the camel train. 5 camels is just not quite enough, especially for the rare goods – so there is the delicate balance between moving the goods, getting the camels to the right place, and trying not to have it stolen along the way. I saw that the rules suggest trying the game with 6 camels under certain circumstances. I’m always curious to know – is this something that you would recommend for all gamers on a first play? or just for novice/casual gamers?
JH: The addition of the 6th camel – and the recommendation for casual play – actually came from Rio Grande. As a practical matter, it’s something that can be determined group by group – or even used as a way to balance players with different experience levels. I tend to teach more experienced gamers, so I nearly always teach with 5 camels – but I did teach once giving myself 5 camels, and everyone else 6; I think that’s a very good way for an experienced player to teach and play on a more level playing field. In general, I’d suggest giving 5 camels to folks who will enjoy that challenge, and 6 camels to those who won’t. Regardless of the number of camels used, it never quite feels like enough, in my experience.
DY: Maybe RIo Grande had its own surplus supply of camels and they needed a way to put more in the box? B^) Thus far, I’ve only played with the normal 5 camel rule, but I might just try it with 6 camels next time to see how it plays differently… do you ever consider a rule of needing to keep your camels connected – as in a real caravan? It does seem somewhat discordant at times for a camel to be able to teleport across the desert and show up in a city on the other side of the board!
JH: B^) – the camels were actually custom-designed for Caravan, so as to be able to either hold a cube above – or hide a cube below. No, there never was a connectivity requirement, for the simple reason that not being able to send a camel off to scout out a good opportunity would lead to a less dynamic game. For what it’s worth, I don’t think of it as teleportation – just the ability of an unburdened camel to move very quickly…
DY: Fair enough…. So, I’ll close by asking the question that I’m sure a lot of people want to know – are there any expansion/promo ideas that you can share with us? Surely it is not a coincidence that the camels can hold two cubes?!
JH: I fear the only thing I can share right now is that I have had – since the game came out – an idea for a promo which I have been playtesting. But it has nothing to do with the number of cubes a camel can hold…
DY: I guess we’ll have to wait and see what comes. In the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying Caravan with my game group! Thanks again for chatting and doing this interview.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor