Spotlight on Southern Designers: Michael Godbold of Gobo Games

Hunting, fishing, football,  and just being in the outdoors — Southern designers have a tough job.  They have to design a gaming experience that can compete for the gamer’s attention with hunting, fishing, football, and just being in the outdoors, all of which are enjoyed year round. 
I got a chance to sit down with another Southern designer who seems very prepared to offer alternative entertainment and hobby options for the young and young-at-heart even during another jam-packed football season.
Michael Godbold is a young designer in Lafayette, Louisiana who self-published his first design, Kobold Ka-boom, this past year under his own banner, Gobo Games. He is a hard worker, and a prolific and creative designer, so it did not surprise me that he has two more designs almost ready for sale, with more on the way.
I sat down recently with Michael, and we talked about life in Louisiana, family, and of course, lots of talk about games. I hope you enjoy my conversation with this very thoughtful designer/publisher:
Michael, thanks again for meeting me. How did you get your start in Hobby Gaming?
Hobby gaming is that one defining thing that always brings people to the table. I didn’t realize this until I was older. I was always an outdoors kid, trampling around the subdivision with the neighborhood posse. When we couldn’t play outside, for whatever reason, we always dug through the “game closet”. It was filled with classic board games, card games and even travel versions of chess and checkers. It was in those moments, fun was delivered by exercising the brain. There were adventures, stories, strategic advantages and even puzzles to present challenge. I got hooked. I can remember making up games and playing them with my friends. That stuck with me, but was completely sidelined when I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons, Shadowrun and the endless expansion of the imagination brought forth by the demand for more adventure. Eventually I grew up, I roamed around the world and ended up back in Louisiana with a trade job and a simple adult life. That just wouldn’t do. 
How did you come up with the name “Gobo” for Gobo Games?
I originally had a partner, and we dove head first into the deep unknown of starting a company. Gobo Games, LLC. was born. My last name is Godbold. Even though it is two words put together, people simply ruin it. I was called “Gobo” throughout school. It stuck with me through all these years. It was simple, different, catchy and curious. Why not use it as a name for the company!
What are your favorite genres of hobby games that you like to play? 
If I can take the role of something not of this world, it wins. Fantasy will always win. I want to get lost in a story or become and change the story itself. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a hulking ogre from time to time, or become an elvish assassin? When it comes to picking a specific type of game, I can’t answer. I play them all.
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Let’s talk about your game company, Gobo Games. I love the Logo! 
There were a “crap ton” of concept logos that I created. I wanted a logo that would pop on any type of game box, something different, modern, simple but not bland. Most of all, it needed to represent me. It’s just me pushing through the indie game company horrors alone these days. So I created the current logo. I hand wrote the name and copied it digitally. I kept it simple by throwing a circle around it. One of the most common symbols that represents a game is a die. I didn’t feel the need to have “games” written out. So I slapped a red die in there and boom, Gobo Games.
Where do you see your games fitting in the hobby market? Quick playing games with depth?

I find many games are overcomplicated. It isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes you want to sit on your butt and hang out around a table with your friends for four to five hours. The amount of people who make time for those games is way less than the people who would smash out a few quick games with friends and call it a night. It’s only logical that I aim to succeed in the best market possible for an up and coming indie company. So, I took the route of simple, quick and fun. For now. Just because something is simple, doesn’t mean it can’t bleed adventure.

What is your dream con to attend as a publisher?

Gen Con. Come on, that thing is massive. It is like a sea of heads and a constant flow to your booth. Who wouldn’t want to spread the word of their games to an ocean of people?
Let’s talk about design. Who are your biggest influences?
Jamie Stegmeier of Stonemeier Games has shown many what it takes. It can be brutal. I want to look at the challenges ahead and face them head. He has tools to guide people. My company has evolved because of his many stories and I am grateful. It isn’t his blog that influences me the most. It’s my daughter. She may be young, but I want to show her that anything is possible, follow your passions and enjoy life.
You talked about enjoying the outdoors as a kid. In the South, kids enjoy playing sports and hunting/fishing year round. How do Southern game companies and designers like yourselves compete for attention with those plentiful activities? 
There are several ways to introduce tabletop gaming to those who aren’t already a part of it. The main issue with marketing is it is always trying to grab the attention of a specific group. Tabletop games have so many themes that there is something for everyone.  Some companies like to have a racing, sports and/or outdoors themed game within their collective. The idea behind the simple tactic is to “break the ice”. Once you break the ice, and they enjoyed the tabletop experience, it’s likely they will branch out. The best marketing tool is the consumer. It’s best to let them spread the word and love of tabletop gaming.
Have you ever tried co-design or are you a solo designer? 

I have always been into design. It hasn’t always been tabletop games. I have had to work with people on numerous crafts, events and projects. Because I am an indie company and I am just now getting my feet wet, I have been going solo. I have a friend out of state who also designs games and has shown interest in joining my team. I can’t wait to work with him on future projects. My main focus right now isn’t Kickstarter. It also isn’t uploading promotional videos. My focus is on having a small collection to start my company with. Once things get rolling and people know more about Gobo Games, the next level will present itself. That next level will be more about promotion, giving me more time to work with other designers and bringing new light to Gobo Games.

 

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Where do you get your ideas?

My ideas generally start off simple. I might be thinking about making a word game and while driving I pass a construction site. What would happen if I put that together? Then I think about heavy machinery building letter buildings. I think about different game mechanics to introduce to this thought. The brain is always triggering and firing. It’s acting on an idea and watching it evolve that truly creates something. When your options are limitless, don’t put a limit on your options.

 

The Krewe de Gumbo has had a lot of heartfelt discussions about the tug of war between chasing after new games (i.e. “Cult of the New”) versus playing games already on our shelves and the comfort that brings. Admittedly, there’s a big thrill in opening up a new game, teaching it to players for the first time, and having the table light up with satisfaction at your “find.” But there’s also the social aspect of four friends playing a game where everybody knows the rules and can relax and have a good time.  Where do you stand on the line of Cult of the New versus Old Shoe?

Old Shoe would not exist without the Cult of the New. Leaving one’s comfort zone can bring new life. You can grow as an individual and  expand your imagination, problem solving and even learn new tactics from something new. Still… playing something that has been your fallback since the dawn of time… priceless. There is no real answer, just the coexistence of both.

Over the last few years, we have seen a lot of “hybrid” games — games with strong mechanics like a Euro game but injected with amazing art, theme and player interaction like a good ol’ Amerithrash game. Where do you stand on hybrid games?

 What if I asked you to create a monster. It is guaranteed you would reference other monsters, animals or whatever else. When a hybrid game gets attention, I think it’s wonderful. It’s a combination of multiple things, like your monster. I feel hybrids are evolving the industry. Sometimes these combinations create a new approach and open new doors for designers to venture.

Let’s talk about your own designs. So far, your first three designs are easy entry, quick playing, interactive card games. Is that Gobo’s “niche” or do you see yourself branching out as a publisher?

Right now? Absolutely. I need a broad market to get my company’s feet wet. I also really enjoy games that can be taken out, played and put up within an hour. I am a dad. I have to take care of my family. I also have to work a 40 plus hour work week. I also go on call sometimes and have very little time for myself. My time is limited. If I have an urge to play a game, but don’t have the rest of the day to play it, quick games win. I fully plan to introduce bigger games to Gobo Games’ catalog. Definitely.

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Tell me more about Kobold Ka-Boom!

Kobold Ka-Boom! is a “beer and pretzels” game. It allows people time to relax the brain because of the simple tactics and ease of game play. It opens up time for people to accept that passive aggression and just have a good time. The best thing about it for me is the shouting that seems to come from people playing. That just means they are having fun. Not everyone gets into imitating the sound of a bomb going off every time they use a bomb, but they should. I remember testing the game at a recent convention and a group of people sat down and went over the rule book. They were very quiet. They asked a few questions for clarity and then asked to play. Once they hashed it out after a round or two, they started shouting and making bomb sounds. One guy got out of his chair and jumped for joy after he scouted his opponent’s bomb and disarmed it. I just smiled and watched on. It drew attention and more people got to play. Almost everyone who sat down to play was eventually getting loud, pointing, laughing, explaining things to newcomers and generally having a good time. If you are looking for a more technical answer. Bombs. Who doesn’t want to bomb their friend’s forces into nothingness?

img_4298I love the art on Kobold Ka-Boom. You worked with a talented artist on that game, Kate Carleton, who has some big games under her artistic belt. Tell me about your work with her.

A year ago, and some change, I needed some art for my first project. I didn’t have tons of money to spend, and I luckily knew a lot of artists already. I posted online a few groups and friends to see if anyone was interested in working with me. There she was. Kate Carleton. She sent me a demo piece of a quick description I had given her. It was perfect for what I had imagined. She was immediately brought on board and has been a crucial member.

img_4950I bet we all do! Boggle and Scrabble have zero theme, but your take, Construction Words, looks like a thematic approach to word games. What was the inspiration behind Construction Words?

 I like word games, but I never had a huge vocabulary growing up. So wanted to take my liking of word games and create something unique that could help someone advance their vocabulary. I have a much better vocabulary these days, but it is always growing. The theme is construction. It’s building. Just like building up your vocabulary. This game had to have a loose theme to take away from it just being another word game. It also had to have a second mechanic. The idea to have incomplete words that needed to be fixed, really stuck with me. The awesome thing is each incomplete word could become hundreds or even thousands of complete words. If you don’t have a high vocabulary, you can still easily play with what knowledge you have. Plus the more you play and learn more words, the better. Having players wrack the brain traditionally is one thing, but having them think tactically for an advantage is another. I took my basic concept and added a slight competitive edge that introduced that tactical thinking. Now when a player completes an incomplete word they get to keep that card. Oh, look! It has a one time ability to skip a player’s turn. Who wouldn’t want to use this on that vocabulary wizard who is in first place?

6f88e2f8-15fc-4be8-95e5-64a5ef09210dThe new game, Heroes Deep, really intrigues me. Give me the elevator pitch  and more about the theme, how to play, mechanics, etc., and tell me about this unique art style that you have come up with. 

I set out to create a game that had simple mechanics, but brought something different to an oversaturated genre. Because the game is still in development, I will just give you what is currently in the works. 

I have been wanting to make a dice game for quite some time. There are a lot of simple dice games and then there are those that make D&D’s Handbook look like a birthday card. I researched and analyzed numerous games, markets and companies. I found that simple was ultimately key. Usually simple and goofy proved to generate more revenue for these companies for them to then put back into delivering more content for consumers. I wanted a more serious dice game, that was still simple. 

My favorite genre is fantasy, so I just dove head first and started a fantasy concept. Using a re-roll mechanic, players attempt to traverse through a linear dungeon. What the hell is a linear dungeon? Well, imagine a random deck of cards that represent where you have moved to within this dungeon. On those cards are icon challenges that can help or hurt you. So even though players aren’t literally turning left and right and going down paths, the dungeon is still randomized. The main goal is to survive and escape the dungeon with their weight in treasure. The catch is the other players can manipulate your dice if they have enough collected resources to do so. They can also prevent you from gaining those resources. That’s where the slight resource management comes into play. 

So besides fighting monsters, having goblins steal your treasure or having your friends making your life miserable, you can also become a monster. When a player dies their goal for winning is no longer exiting the dungeon with their weight in treasure. They must kill all the heroes. 

Because the concept involved a dark fantasy tone and my artist doesn’t normally do the style I was looking for, I ended up doing it myself. I used bits and pieces of photos, public domain clip art and even hand drawn effects and created base images. I then blended the absolute hell out of them all while tampering with lighting, blurring and smudging to get the finished results. There are also millions of blending filters which aided in solidifying the overall image. It’s pretty amazing when you can make your goofy friend into an evil looking wizard.

How has the playtesting experience been for you?

This one can be tricky. I playtest my mechanics as much as I can. I then hand it off to a small group of random people who are always in and out of the gaming community. I let friends and family have at it as well. I know that I need some “game breakers” to look over my mechanics so I review with a few semi-trusted groups who can’t wait to delve right into the game mechanics. The best thing I have ever heard about this industry is no one is actually right.

“If a company can make millions off of a mechanically weak game that has terrible art or a game that has great mechanics and terrible art… there is room for anything in this ever changing industry.”

It wouldn’t be a Louisiana lunch meeting if we didn’t talk about our next meal while we are eating! So, last question: best chicken — Popeye’s or Raisin’ Cane’s?

Popeye’s. Spicy. I am hungry now.

My thanks to Michael Godbold of GoBo Games for taking the time to visit with me. You can find more about Michael and his company at Gobo Games.

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