Series Note: This is the first in a series of interviews I’m doing with publishers and designers. With many game conventions cancelled, and the number of new releases already declining, I’m asking questions about what is coming out in the next few months — the type of information we’d normally get around convention time — plus I’m asking about the impact of recent events. Basically, these are part designer diary, part publisher diary, and part reflections on the industry/hobby. The first interview is with Chad DeShon, owner of BoardGameTables.com.
About Today’s Interviewee: Chad DeShon, owner of BoardGameTables.com, has added game design and game publishing to his product lines. His first project, On Tour, is a well-respected roll ‘n write. His next two games — a reprint of Q.E. and then Bites — have also been a big success. Releasing this summer is deduction game Loot of Lima, designed by OG-er Larry Levy. Plus he’s got three games on a Kickstarter ending tomorrow, one of which he designed. Chad puts a lot of thought into this games, and he is quickly becoming one of my favorite publishers. And not only is he great at his job, I can also vouch that he’s an incredibly nice guy.
I was curious about his decision to launch a Kickstarter despite recent world events, and I was even more curious about how he’s picking his games, so I asked him if he’d answer a few interview questions. His responses are below!
You recently launched a trio of new games on Kickstarter (Sequoia, Mountain Goats, and GPS). You designed Sequoia, and the other two are re-releases of games previously out on the German market. Can you tell us more about the games?
I’m not a big fan of the term “filler”. I don’t like the idea that I am just playing games to waste time. But I do really love playing those short quick games.
I think I like them because you get to play them so many more times. I can try different strategies. Explore patterns. And enjoy the luck factor more. It can be fun to have a lucky game or an unlucky game. And it is easier to swallow in a 10 minute game.
I love when I want to go to bed, but someone just puts a game on the table. They know I won’t be able to say no. We know it is short. We all know how to play. We won’t even pause our conversation. We’ll just start setting it up and someone will take the first turn.
These are those type of games.
When I’m an old man, I hope to spend whole afternoons playing games like this on my deck, always taking full credit for my wins and blaming my losses on the dice/cards/spinner.
I want to hear more about Sequoia. You’ve described it as “Can’t Stop” meets “Las Vegas.” How’d you get the idea for the game? How’d you pick the theme?
I was playing El Grande. A key part of that game (and any area majority game) is picking your battles. There is kind of an implicit negotiation between players. Can you sneak a victory in an area players are ignoring? Can you win a region by just one? Is worth it to jump out to a big lead early to scare people people away from a region? How much should you pick on the leader? El Grande has a lot of stuff around this core. I wanted to explore a game with very little around the core.
Then I played a game of Can’t Stop. I love the restriction of making pairs with the dice. It is a great mechanic for limiting your options and still giving you choices. It’s like the hand of cards in Brass. There are a lot of things you can do, but you can’t just do anything you want.
In Sequoia, you roll dice and make two pairs of dice. There are numbered forest cards. You put a tree in the forest matching the value of each pair. So, if your dice pairs are 2+3 and 1+6, you put a tree in the “5” forest and one in the “7” forest.
Giving each player their own set of dice allowed everyone to take turns simultaneously. It felt that was key for the weight of this game. It keeps everyone involved, eliminates down time, minimizes AP (There are unknowns about what the other players are doing, so you can’t plan perfectly.), and keeps the playtime short.
The first playtest was a real flop. Using four dice, like Can’t Stop, didn’t give you enough options. There are only thee ways you can pair the dice. You could never do what you wanted. You had to do whatever the dice told you to do.
I was about the shelve the game, but the group I was playtesting with convinced me to try again with 5 dice per player instead of 4. I was hesitant because that increases the number of possible combinations from 3 to 15. I was afraid it would really slow the game down.
It didn’t slow the game down. Instead, it made it great. Sometimes there were shouts of excitement when people rolled exactly what they wanted. Sometimes groans when they didn’t get the number they were looking for. But most of the time it was pondering choice and debating options.
I explored a few different themes. Ultimately I decided the play pieces needed to stack so that it was easy to compare and see who was winning in each region. Once we starting making stacks that kept growing upwards, it seemed pretty obvious to make them tree. For a while the game was just called Trees, but we thought Sequoia was more interesting.
And a game you previously released, Bites, was a reimplement of Big Points. I really love that one. Now you’ve signed two more games from the Easy Play line — Level X was reimplemented by Mountain Goats, and GPS was reimplemented by Finito — with new themes. How’d you pick the games to publish? And are there big differences from the prior versions?
I basically publish games that I like to play, with a focus on shorter-ish games that are easy to teach. In particular, I publish games that I like playing more than other people seem to. Then, I try to put amazing art and components on them and convince the world to love them as much as me.
I tend to stick to publishing shorter games because as much as I love playing longer games, I don’t have time to evaluate or design long games. For every game we publish, I have to look at a lot that I don’t want to publish.
I was a big fan of the Easy Play line, but it was never widely available in the US. So this is my chance to take some of the best games from that line and show them to a new audience.
Bites (formally Big Points) was a game I (and the designers) thought could be bigger. It already had the concept of tokens with special powers. We super charged that and make it variable from game to game. Where Big Points could get into familiar patterns after a number of player, Bites has so much game to game variability. You are trying to solve the puzzle about how all the rules cards interact, and at the same time, all the other players are trying to mess it up for you.
I thought the best parts about Finito (now GPS) and Level X (now Mountain Goats) was the simplicity. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that Finito was their go to game to teach people who had never played a hobby board game before. They would like the game, and then find out it is almost impossible to buy it.
Instead of making these games bigger, we made them smaller. I’m trying to get the price and box size down to something that will be tempting to people who aren’t quite as over the top into gaming as you or me.
Mountain Goats is basically unchanged. Just a fresh coat of paint. In GPS we replaced the 20 sided die with a spinner. Some people are going to hate it. But those are the kind of people who hate fun. I used to love the spinner in Life when I was a kid. GPS is like playing roulette, but with more choices and less losing money.
Was it a tough decision to launch a Kickstarter during the pandemic? There’s some evidence that Kickstarter sales are down.
It was a hard decision. I send a lengthy email to our newsletter explaining why we were doing it.
The short version is:
In a time when we can’t do so many normal things, I think it is good to keep doing the normal things that we can.
It doesn’t help the economy or our business to stop selling products. New products are a big part of our business. It is how we pay our bills and payroll.
I realize that some people will need to sit this one out. I would never want anyone to buy something from us they can’t afford. But I think people can make that decision for themselves.
Ultimately I think it was the right decision. I’m been blown away by the response to the games.
I’m so sorry to anyone who as been directly affected by this illness, had friends and family affected, or been hit by the indirect effects like losing a job. Like everyone, I feel powerless and hope this is behind us soon.
You also have a game coming out (Loot of Lima) designed by Larry Levy of this site! Can you tell us more about when we can expect to see that come out?
Larry’s design (formally Deduce or Die!) has been a favorite of mine for years. It is the ultimate realization of what I was talking about above. I publish games that I like to play.
Loot of Lima makes less sense than our other offerings. It probably has less wide market appeal, and it costs more to print than any of our other games. But more people should be playing this game!
It won’t mean that everyone likes all our games. But people can trust that we are publishing games based on how good they are. If I tried to publish a game based on how well it would sell, I’m sure it would be a flop.
And, people tried to tell me there wasn’t a wide enough market appeal for QE. We sold out of its first print run. No one can predict this stuff.
Loot of Lima and the QE reprint will be available in late July. You can preorder them from our website here: https://www.boardgametables.com/pages/games.
You can check out that Kickstarter for GPS, Sequoia, and Mountain Goats here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1296268806/gps-sequoia-and-mountain-goats?ref=ercff2
Thanks, Chad, for being our first interview in the series!