A Chat with Chenier La Salle, Designer of New York 1901

Many gamers in South Louisiana can trace their roots to Canada. Of course, the Acadians are the most well known transplants, as they were forced out of the Acadie area of Eastern Canada during Le Grand Derangement in 1755 and found their way south to Louisiana.  But, there were also a lot of soldiers, business people, tradesman, farmers and sailors who left Quebec and other French speaking areas in the 1700s and headed down south.

So we are always excited to hear of the successes of the gaming and design communities of our Francophone friends in Quebec.  Recently, we had the pleasure of catching up again with one of those successful designers.

 

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Photo from Board Game Geek’s Designer Page
Chenier La Salle is the award winning designer of New York 1901, published in 2015 by Blue Orange Games.  Chenier is originally from Quebec, but currently lives and works in Japan on assignment from the Canadian government. Of course, he is also working on his latest game there,

 

He was gracious enough to exchange messages with me for this interview. Merci, Chenier!

 

 

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BJ: I read that your family game nights with your own children got started with card games and games like Ticket to Ride, which your family called “The Train Game.” Funny! In our family, we call it the same, as in “Want to try one of my dad’s games? We could play The Train Game.” Was that name organic or something Dad (Chenier) created to make the games more palatable to our video obsessed kids?

CL: It just happened. Thurn and Taxis became the “Germany game” and Finca the “fruit game”. Must be human nature. I’m sure some people also shorten the already short New York 1901. I’ve heard people refer to it as “New York” (a quick game of ‘New York’?) and others as “1901”. 

You spent some time in the south (Texas) after jumping back into this hobby with two feet. Any special memories of gaming in Texas?

My most vivid gaming memory, beyond the game that our family created in Texas, is the pleasure of discovering how less expensive board games are in the US compared to Canada. Dad (me) really went nuts buying many more board games than he can ever hope to play. It’s kinda ridiculous – my wall of shame is filled with games from that 4 year buying spree!

Did you attend any of the cons in Houston or Dallas? What was the hobby gaming scene like in Houston when you were there? Any friends to thank for their help on NY 1901?

As for the Houston gaming scene, it’s very active but I didn’t attend any of the cons. I did attend a weekly game designers meetup early in the development of New York 1901. I got a lot of ‘tough love’ just when I needed it most.

As a Quebecois, you are bilingual. When Amazon delivers a game from Canada or Europe that you’ve been waiting for….do you grab the French rules or the English rules first?

Hehe, good question. If the game has both English and French rules, I’ll probably read the first version I stumble upon.

So, you are on a post in Japan, returning to you and your family’s roots somewhat. How has that experience been? We are seeing more and more cross over games from Japan and other parts of Asia.

Yes, this posting in Japan is perfect on all fronts. I’m in a country that I know well so on a professional level, I can really make a difference supporting Canadian industry. On a personal level my wife is extremely happy to be back home – I met her in Japan when I lived here from 1994-2004. My job had forced her to live outside Japan for 12 years and she really missed home. You can also imagine how happy the in-laws are to see their daughter and grandchildren. I think I’ll have a hard time getting her to leave Japan once this posting is over!

What is the Japanese gaming scene like?

It’s still relatively small in Japan. Nagoya, the city I live in is the third city in Japan in terms of population (it’s big) but has only one small shop where you can find “revival” boardgames – which shows you how small the market is here. But the scene is growing. Carcassonne has a somewhat of a following.


My first Gen Con last year was overwhelming and exhilarating at the same time. In 2015, you traveled to Indy for your first GenCon to showcase NY1901? What was the experience like? What did you learn for your next big con?

It felt overwhelming and exhilarating just like it was for you or for any first time goer! When you add the fact that I had a game that was coming out at Gencon that had built up quite a bit of buzz, it was a surreal thrill! The lessons I learned were mostly about the groundwork that goes into preparing for a show like that. All the prep work has to be perfect but that’s mostly in the publisher’s hands – although I was very active on the internet myself before the show. As a designer during a show, your most important job is to make yourself available.

I love Vincent Dutrait‘s work (the artist on New York 1901). He has a style that is very recognizable right away. How did he get attached to your NY 1901 project?

It’s the publisher’s job to hire the artist and they made a great decision by hiring Vincent. Like you said, his style is very recognizable. It has a European comic strip feel to it that suits board games very well and gives them a tasteful yet playful feel. A great privilege to have Vincent bring the world of New York 1901 to life. I love his work.

I read in an interview that he added a little “gift” to the inside of your box at Gen Con 2015. What did he draw or inscribe?

Vincent and I were at the Blue Orange booth for a few hours each day signing the inside of the boxes for the gamers who bought a copy. I would just sign and add a thank you note or something but Vincent would draw a character for everyone who bought the game and stood in line. Before the end of the show, he opened a box for me, signed the inside of the cover and drew a character from the game. He made my drawing a ‘deluxe version’ by making it a bit more elaborate than the ones he drew all day. The box is now truly a family heirloom.

How have you changed or grown as a player since starting your own designs? Do you have a favorite genre?

Sadly, I don’t spend as much time as I’d like “playing” games now that I’m working on my own designs. I still try to play new games a few times a month to keep building on my personal database of experiences. Since I do all of my gaming with my family, we go for family fare. We’ve had fun trying out a lot of the Queen games we bought over the holidays (there were some great deals!).

Any plans for conventions in the states or Europe?

Not really. The next convention I attend will likely be for the release of my next game, which could be 2 or more years away. Unless there’s a opportunity in Japan or Taiwan over the next few years to help promote New York 1901. But nothing planned for now.

Let’s talk about game design. Of all of the designers I have studied, you *really* dive deep into historical research. Obviously, a game about turn of the century New York skyscrapers lends itself to that deep dive, but what is it about you or your background that attracts to you the historical or the antique?

Apart from abstract games, most board games include some kind of role-playing element: you become a real estate mogul, a general, an explorer etc. I enjoy this part of the board game experience and I love it when a theme has been properly developed to establish and build the “immersion” factor. I remember playing war games in my adolescence and I noticed the details. I loved playing with authentic units with their actual name written on them. I loved the leader tiles that featured the actual names of the generals who led their armies into battle. I noticed and enjoyed these little details tremendously and I thought I’d include them in my own designs. I hope people enjoy. I’m also sensitive to the aesthetics of certain historical periods and choose my themes from among the periods that appeal to me and that I feel will appeal to the public in general.

Another reason for the extensive research is the fun factor. Developing a board game can take many years (over three years for New York 1901) so it can’t just feel like work. It has to be a ‘fun’ labour of love or you’ll just give up halfway through. I chose a theme that gave me shivers and still does. Discovering a new pic (one I’ve never seen) on the internet of an old New York skyscraper still gives me a bit of a high.

So to answer your question about my background, all I can say is that I’m bringing my own sensibilities to the forefront, highlighting what brings me pleasure and selecting and keeping what I think others will respond to.

Recently, some of the more ‘famous’ designers in our hobby have experienced backlash from the internet community. By that I mean, a designer like Jamey Stegmaier or Eric M. Lang lands a few designs on the ‘hotness’ on Board Game Geek, and suddenly, there is an almost inevitable undercurrent of gamers ready to trash their next designs. Where do you stand on criticism of designs and designers? Gentle, acerbic, or don’t give a hoot?

I’m not surprised. It’s human nature. Marketing is an important part of a successful board game project and the two designers you mention are very good at marketing themselves and their games. When you’re visible and successful, you make yourself a target for some gratuitous criticism. I think that at the core of the negative reactions is a feeling of “why are we always talking about this game/designer while there are so many others that are deserving”. It’s actually an understandable reaction. New York 1901 was the target of some criticism for similar reasons, it had a solid awareness building effort behind it so it made an easy target for gratuitous criticism. When I read some of the comments posted online, I can often see that some of these people have actually never played the game – which is very disappointing. You need thick skin when you put your soul into a game and then put it out there.

On a personal basis, now that I have creations of my own out there, I refrain from rating or commenting on anybody else’s work unless I have something positive to say. I think most designers do the same.

Antoine Bauza is well known for having his love of Japanese culture influence many of his designs. You have lived all over the world but have focused on New York City. Do you expect to see some of your world journeys leak into future games?

I love big cities. I love the dynamic image they project. Cities give me goosebumps. I love to channel some of that imagery and use it to build immersive backgrounds for games. So the answer is: yes!

13173491_861889250601313_660072578630068742_oHow have you enjoyed the ride of success of having your first published game, New York 1901, garner press attention, con attention, good sales and even wins / nominations for big awards.

I’m very lucky. I beat the odds in many, many ways. I was fortunate simply to have my first creation published. But then there’s more. New York 1901 was published by a major publisher and went on to receive a few awards (2016 Mensa Select Winner, Games Magazine, Finnish Game of the Year) and get nominated for a few more (Dice Tower, 2015 Golden Geek (BGG) Best Family Board Game Nominee, Origins). People say you have to work hard to create your luck, and I did work very hard, but I’m the first to admit luck met me halfway – you get that perspective on life as you get older. I’m very fortunate. My biggest reward though is talking to fans of the game and to the many friends I’ve made because of it. Merci Barry!

What would you do different?

Hum… some small things but nothing worth mentioning.

You seem to love prototyping! What is it about making prototypes that attracts you?

I have fun collecting imagery and putting it together in prototype material. I try to seduce myself when I’m making games and hope that others will feel the same way. But beyond the aesthetics, making prototypes is kinda like ‘meditation’ for me. As I’m assembling the prototype or tinkering with the graphics on my computer, I’m exploring new ideas in my head. I’m playtesting in my mind. I guess it’s part of my creative process.

I’m seeing sneak peaks of a very interesting new “La Salle creation.” What can you tell us about this new game? (note, Chenier graciously allowed us to bring you a link to his Facebook page. You can follow the fascinating development of his latest game here.)

I’m still working with my muse, New York City. I got to know her so well during the last creative process so I know she has much more to give 😉

The new game still centers around skyscrapers but covers a much longer period of time historically. It’s less ‘tetris-y’ than the first but there’s still a tile laying element. I’m going new places in terms of mechanics: I’m playing with variable powers, with worker placement and with hand/resource management. Again, it’s meant to be a family ‘gateway’ game that plays quickly and intuitively. It’s also meant to have an immersive fully developed theme. People who take out the game have to feel like they’re living an ‘experience’. If I can accomplish that, I’ve done my job.

What was the inspiration? How long has it been germinating?

It stems from some of the original research I did for New York 1901 so I guess it goes all the way back to 2011. In earnest, I’d say I’m a year into the project at this point.

How far along are you? What are you expecting out of this one?

I think I’m still a good 6 months away (damn that day job!) from having a prototype worth sharing outside my immediate playtesting group which is my family.

Who is the target audience? Any potential publishers interested or looking?

I’m hoping for an immersive gateway game that finds a home with families and medium-light gamers. Haven’t showed it to any publisher yet. If I did learn something from my first experience it’s that you should only pitch your game when it’s truly ready.

Where do you see yourself in this hobby in 10 years?

I’m 48, so that takes me to 58. I see myself with a few more games under my belt and preparing for a retirement (from my day job – government pension) so I can start a new life filled with playing and making games. I hope it happens. I’m chasing my dream and having fun doing it. Merci Barry!

Merci, Chenier!

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.

Spotlight on Southern Designers: Derik Duley of Lagniappe Games

At Board Game Gumbo, we celebrate gaming in the Deep South, with a Louisiana flavor. I’ve befriended another Southerner on Twitter, and here is his story…

profile_pic-originalDerik Duley was raised near New Orleans (coincidentally in the same town as Mike Becnel, designer of Battle Roads Miniatures) but made his way to the big city of Los Angeles. He is the designer of Hot Pursuit, a card game coming out from his company, Lagniappe Games, in 2017. We had an interesting email chat about his gaming experiences, his ongoing projects, and his love of andouille sausage. Hope you enjoy!

Derik, thanks for chatting! How did a Louisiana native end up in The City of Angels? 
Howdy! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me  Well, long story: my father owned Hit Videos, a video store chain that spread from Destrehan and Luling, across to LaPlace and Reserve, and all the way out to Gonzales. Unfortunately, in 1999 the competition with Blockbuster and a few unsuccessful business gambles led to our downfall. So, we fell back on our financial safety net: his parents. My twin-brother, father, and I moved in with Grandma at the northern edge of L.A. county, finished high school, and carried on with our lives.

Are you a full time designer or do you have another career?
I wish but I’m definitely not full-time, yet. For the time being, NASA pays the bills in exchange for working as part of the “Protective Services”. The job sounds awesome and involves a LOT of training, but is actually quite boring.
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How long have you been into hobby gaming? 
This is a tough question for me. I grew up only playing Uno as a family bonding exercise or getting my butt handed to me in Monopoly by my “youth champion” older brother. In ’95 I was finally introduced to a real game: Magic: The Gathering, but didn’t really get to play much until Freshman year of High School. In college, I REALLY learned how to play tactically. Daily, eight of us would push the lunch tables together and do our best to finally beat the guy with the “Power 9” deck. However, I was a broke college student, so I didn’t get to do the big tournaments. Then, I grew up and got a job… which required me to work over the weekend. Without friendly competition and chances to burn my brain on dynamic problem solving exercises, I was left with a gaping hole in my life.

Like most of the country, I didn’t know there was anything outside of mass-market games until 4 years ago. Thank God, I made some new friends at hockey who introduced my wife and me to CarcassonneStone Age, and (one of my favorites) 7 Wonders. Now, I’m all over BBG and Kickstarter (130 backed projects).

What kind of games tickle your acquisition disorder?
I enjoy strategic games but LOVE tactical games – making the most of what I’m dealt to overcome the odds with a big win is what gets my heart thumping. GruffX-Wing (for the dog-fights, not the miniatures), and most drafting games are my cup of tea. Asymmetry really grabs my attention, too. I’m so jealous of your Gen-Con party because you got to play and/or buy almost everything at the top of my wish-list right now.

Card in HandThe Krewe de Gumbo definitely had a great time at Gen Con 2016! So, how is the board game scene in LA? With that big of a city, it would seem pretty easy to game every night if you chose.
Unfortunately, “L.A. is big” is a misconception – L.A. County is pretty huge, though. The city proper is more interested in industry, music, booze, and t.v./movies. I used to be in a small group (max 8 guys) here but it has recently collapsed thanks to everyone either moving away or receiving new work schedules. I’ve tried to get everyone at work involved, but it’s just not their thing. The board game scene, like the hockey scene, is nowhere near me  We only have a tiny, struggling game store in town. However, I’ve met some guys with good size groups roughly 2 hours east and south from me, and there’s a great Unpub group down in San Diego. Starting to think I’ll have to make the commute if I want to keep playing – not having any more testers to work with is really killing me.

Are you a con-goer? 
So far, I’ve only been to small conventions. Strategicon is a local organization that puts on 3 cons a year at the Hilton just outside of LAX Airport. The first year I went to play and meet. This year I went trying to publicize Hot Pursuit just before the Kickstarter campaign. It uh… well… unless you have an existing, hyped up game to sell, it’s a lot of time and money for little return. Next year, I will DEFINITELY be at Gen Con and BGG Con – not just because I need to publicize, but because I desperately want to enjoy new games and meet these designers I’ve talked to on Twitter. Hopefully, I can even find you guys and we can spread some southern fun 😉

Absolutely! Do you get to travel back to Louisiana and game?
No. Because of my job, I don’t get to go back often, and when I do, it’s to visit family, eat food, show my wife the sights, and stuff my luggage full of andouille (11 lbs on the last trip) <ed. note: andouille sausage, a traditional spicy pork and beef sausage made in Acadiana>. However, I’m really hoping to visit Avery Island on our next trip. It’d be awesome if I could talk my wife into a slight detour through Lafayette.

Definitely, come by and we’ll sample some Lafayette cooking.


Hot Pursuit Side BarHot Pursuit was a crowdsourced game that did not quite make its goal. I read on an interview with The Inquisitive Meeple that you compared it to a “big” version of Love Letter. How long have you spent working on Hot Pursuit? Tell us some of your design influences that led to the creation. 

I love that you read that interview! Hot Pursuit has only existed for roughly a year-and-a-half and has changed very little in the last year. I was specifically looking to make a party style game – something simple enough for lots of table-talk and able to scale up for large player counts. After 4 different ideas ballooned into bigger, Dark Moon sized games, I was venting to my lead tester. As a huge fan of Love Letter, his best suggestion was a bigger version of that. Well, I couldn’t do THAT, but his desire for a “secret” card that players were trying to find and hide led to the base of Hot Pursuit (bringing together 2 “key” cards). I can’t say any other game influenced this particular design – I just focused on the design goals: I didn’t want players to draw/discard/play because working from a finite deck severely limits scalability; if players had to get two specific cards together, I had to limit their ability to hoard; and so on.

You sound like a big fan of Jamey Stegmaier and Colby Dauch in your blog. How much have they influenced your work as an independent, up-and-coming publisher?
Mr. Stegmaier was HUGE for my initial growth and education in the business side of crowdfunding as an indie-publisher. I read that guy’s blog every day! Like probably every indie-publisher, I’d love to follow his example in building a successful company that can employ me full-time. (*Side note: he also spoiled me. He offers a subscription option for his blog so that I can get every post in my mailbox. I can’t remember to keep up with blogs I can’t subscribe to). Mr. Dauch, on the other hand, I kept up with for morale purposes. I don’t have a group of nerds to geek out over games with. So, listening to him and the crew on the Plaid Hat Podcast talk about games, and conventions, and design challenges kept me excited. In addition to these two “pillars” I get to look up to, I’ve been a fairly regular follower of Mr. Grant Rodiek’s blog at Hyperbole Games (the designer behind FarmageddonHocus, and Cry Havoc). He runs his blog exactly how I’d like to and has the same exact goals for his company and game designs that I do. It’s been pretty reassuring following him – like I might not be completely out of my mind 🙂


I read a good quote from Jamey Stegmaier, something about not funding a Kickstarter project can be as useful or important as funding one (I am paraphrasing of course.) What is the top lesson you learned from Hot Pursuit’s Kickstarter campaign, and what are your plans to change?Project Image 2

Yes sir, NOT funding can be a crucial lesson. In this case, I was able to see that, although I had a bigger support group than I expected, it wasn’t very far reaching. A surprising number of the backers I didn’t know came from Kickstarter and other outside sources – not referrals. The two biggest problems with the game itself (not my marketing/advertising) were the very polarizing artwork and the gimmicky sounding player count (1 – 10 players). Now, I’m no dummy. I completely understand that such a wide player count is a huge red flag for most backers – it looks like I’m either over-reaching or just a terrible designer. For now, I’m working on improving my marketing material and publishing “How-to-play” videos to help people see how the game works. If people can see that I HAVE tested the crap out of it, that it IS fun, I think I’ll be able to get a lot more traction next time. Also, Dawson Cowals has stepped up to help redo/improve the look of the game – which can only help.

I am fascinated by play testing. How has your experience been with Hot Pursuit or your other projects? Frustrating or good feedback? 
Playtesting is one the biggest hurdles for new designers. We can NOT put out great games without thorough testing, but, without a reputation, it can be quite challenging to collect together a sufficiently large group. I cannot adequately explain how helpful constructive criticism is for a designer. Boy, could I tell you stories of observations, comments, and thoughts from testers that completely saved my games! Unfortunately, with Hot Pursuit, my feedback has been…weird. The form responses always felt like the writers are being polite, but I’ve managed to pick up a few hardcore fans, too. That being said, playtesting is the only reason I still believe in Hot Pursuit’s viability. The plays have been great! The laughing, the trash-talking… the way the table goes silent with thought and then lights up again with smiles, nudges, and knowing nods, is just amazing. The fact that I can put together a great experience for any number of players who were willing to sit down with me has been wonderful.

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Any favorite designers out there? Is there anyone that secretly you consider an “insta-buy” if you see their name on the box?
Man, that darn Scott Almes guy… I just can’t stop buying his Tiny Epic games. Tiny Epic Galaxies has a little bit of everything I love in a small box. Because of my “dead” group and videogame loving wife, I can’t really auto-buy any designer. However, Ryan Laukat (Red Raven Games)Teale Fristoe(Nothing Sacred Games), Grant Rodiek (Hyperbole Games), and Jonathan Gilmour definitely have my attention.

All right, time for some quick questions. Robert Crais or James Lee Burke? 
Uh… I ain’t read either. Don’t hate me! I have a lot of free time at work and I’ll definitely be checking in to Deputy Dave Robicheaux, though. I’ve actually been looking for novels exactly like these!

Boudin or beignets? 
Fried boudin balls with remoulade on french bread! Any other way, though? Beignets win.

Best place to get authentic street Mexican food in L.A.? 
Vallarta (a hispanic grocery chain). San Diego has some great restaurants, though.

Any juicy rumors you can give us about your upcoming projects?  What should we be on the lookout for with Lagniappe Games? 
Hot Pursuit is coming again at the beginning of next year. I already have a distributor interested and am excited to share the new art.

Web Banner*Juicy rumor-ville* I love Hot Pursuit, but I’m literally trying to get it “out of the way” so I can bring out Into a New World (a tile laying, abstract strategy, territory control game for 2 – 4) and SPACE BACON (*yes, you have to yell it like that*, a space racing card game for 2 – 4). Into a New World is my absolute FAVORITE game. Period. I’m not very good at perfect information strategy games like this, but I just can’t play it enough and no tester has been happy with only 1 game. Space Bacon is from a long time friend of mine.spacebacon_final_boxtop I commented to him that I wanted to make a racing card game. This is what he came back with. After a couple of games, I knew somebody HAD to publish that thing. Thankfully, he’s trusting it to me  Assuming I can get enough testers to make sure the games are as good as I think, they’ll be seeing Kickstarter in the second half of 2017.

Sounds great! Can’t wait to keep an eye out for Lagniappe Games. Thanks for your time and you are always welcome to come game with us when you make it to Acadiana. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

B.J.

Spotlight on Southern Designers, with Mike Becnel

Here at Board Game Gumbo, we celebrate gaming in the Deep South, with a Louisiana flavor. I noticed a Kickstarter with a familiar sounding name, and investigated. Sure enough, I found out that Mike Becnel, the designer of Battle Roads Miniatures, was born and raised near New Orleans and attended LSU. He makes Houston, Texas his home now, but we had an interesting email chat about his gaming experiences, his ongoing project, and his love for war gaming.

Mike, tell us about yourself. How did you get started in board gaming? What types of games tweak your “acquisition disorder?” 

I was born in the old Lutcher hospital and lived originally in La Place, Louisiana (a city on I-10 just west of New Orleans). I have a BS degree in Management/Entrepreneurship from LSU (ed. note: Geaux Tigers!). I am a graduate of the US Navy Nuclear Reactor Operator program which, from an engineering perspective, is one of the hardest including MIT. I also attended Texas A&M where I played Lacrosse and gamed way too much…hence the time in the Navy.

I started board gaming in middle school when I visited the Game Shoppe which used to be located in Tiger Town just off the campus of Louisiana State University. I bought a game called Rivets for about $5. It was a pocket game. I still have a copy of Rivets. I was ~12 years old. I remember reading the rules several times and really loved the complexity of the game. Within a month or so I bought Ogre by Steve Jackson Games. I played that game so many times I wore out the counters.

My favorite games now are mostly miniature based with pre painted minis. My three favorites are Wings of Glory, X-Wing Miniatures and Sails of Glory. I have also recently started picking up on the Indie game scene with a local gaming group which often includes all my primary play testers for Battle Roads Miniatures. In the past I had a games store called Historical Hobbies in Longview, TX. The core of the store was Games Workshop. I built the clientele with a giant Blood Bowl league. Later we moved on to Necromunda which I still have and will use as terrain for some BRM convention games.

Are you in a game group or unpub community? How is the Houston area gaming / designing community? 

I am in a game group from my days at Texas A&M in the late 80s. We are called Nova. We call ourselves Nova. Our “committee” used to be a part of the Texas A&M student organization department located in the student union. I was the committee’s chairman in 1990. We used to run Warcon and Novacon on campus at A&M. Many of us still stay in contact via a massive email list. 2 of my playtesters for BRM are former Novads. One of them is Andy, the one I mention in the quick play video who is cursed with horrendous dice rolling. Overloaded disruptors range 4 no ECM shift? Andy rolls 6s. (Star Fleet Battles reference…hits are 1-5).

Are you a convention goer?

I am a big time convention goer. I will be at Origins and Gencon this year. I also regularly attend Owlcon (Rice University – Houston) and Millenniumcon (Round Rock, TX). I may attend Protospiel in Michigan this year as I have a friend up there I want to visit who lives 30 minutes away. He has the Guinness Book of Records largest a$$…his Donkey Romulus. Yes, he likes Romulans and Romulus drops R sized land mines (another SFB reference…yes I am very old school).

Have you traveled to any other Southern cities for gaming? 

I have traveled all over the South gaming but mostly Texas and Louisiana. Last time in Louisiana was for a con in New Orleans at the WWII history museum. I do not recall when that was but it was superb.

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All Rights Reserved, Mike Becnel Games 2016

What is your personal experience with crowdsourcing?

Battle Roads Miniatures is my first project. I have been watching Kickstarter for a long time. I watched what worked and what failed. I figured out what I wanted to have in my Kickstarter and how I wanted to advertise it over time. I learned a lot about what NOT to do on a game I like a lot. The game was great, but the KS fulfillment was a disaster. Retail copies were shipping out before KS copies and the retail price was far less than the KS price. It was a lesson learned. I will not repeat that one!

I have actually never backed a KS project directly but have been a part of a “buddy” combo a few times where I bought a copy with someone else. Sails of Glory is one of those. I can see it from where I sit now. I am ex-Navy and love that game.

Battle Roads is a unique take on a miniatures skirmish style game. One of my friends called it a “ground level version of X-wing.” What was the genesis of the idea, and how long have you worked on it? 

“Looks like” X-Wing (Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures game) is a huge compliment if that is what is thought. From a quality perspective, X-Wing is my target. From a game play perspective there is no similarity. X-Wing is one maneuver per turn with moves not being simultaneous and allows for dice to be modified. BRM has two maneuvers and two shooting phases per turn and all moves are simultaneous. In BRM you must anticipate what your opponents move will be and guessing wrong can be bad news. In addition, X-Wing has generic damage, BRM has specific component damage. The biggest influence X-Wing had was I redesigned the “upgrades” to show the resource value in a large number on the counter like X-Wing does on all ships and cards.

The closest examples of games similar to BRM are Wings of Glory and Aerodrome 1.1 (WWI air combat – Stan Kubiak). I played Aerodrome 1.1 at Origins in Ft Worth, TX in 1993 for the first time. That is when the idea for BRM was born. The programmed turns and execution was 5 to 6 times faster than Car Wars and easily adaptable to a ground version. BRM has slowly developed since then. It is similar to Wings of Glory in that there are two movements and shooting phases per turn and all moves are plotted. I am not a massive fan of the movement decks in WoG as keeping them organized after a massive convention battle is painful.

 

All Rights reserved, Mike Becnel Games 2016

What does Battle Roads bring to the table top community that is different from other games like it? 

First, from a component there are no pre painted car vs car miniature combat games on the market as far as I know. I have been wanting this since I first saw Car Wars. From a game play perspective the critical system is different than any game I have played but there may be similar that I am not aware of. Any time the attacker rolls even one success when shooting there is a chance for a critical. The defender rolls dice equal to the remaining chassis points on their car. If any successes are rolled there is no critical. If all are failures the attacker gets to assign two points of damage to the defender with some restrictions. This system makes it so it is extremely unlikely to have a critical on any untouched car but more likely as the car is damaged. I truly dislike critical systems where an untouched unit can be blown to bits in one shot. Example: pilot killed/etc. This blind luck result can totally ruin a game where one side has tactically “owned” their opponent. I do not think it is a good addition to any tactical game.

How have you enjoyed the design process? What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them? What has been the most surprising thing you learned? 

I have been designing BRM for years per above. I have worked on it off and on. My real life career has kept me too tired often to really get into a “creative” mode. I really picked back up on the game about 18 months ago when I created the first wooden prototypes for the control boards. I use those prototypes for conventions.

My biggest challenge has been converting the final concept to a game that can be easily manufactured and stand up to heavy play. The biggest changes were on the miniatures themselves to make them suitable for plastic injection molding. The Prospector used to have its gun off to the side. This is not possible in a simple injection mold as it causes an “undercut”. An undercut prevents the mold halves from separating and releasing the part during manufacturing. No undercuts are allowed!

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All rights reserved, Mike Becnel Games 2016

Another change was the design of the control boards. One of my final 2 chosen manufacturers suggested a design change to use 8mm acrylic cubes vs plastic pegs in the control boards. This is much like the main boards you will see in Scythe by Stonemaier games.  PandaGM made the suggestion. This eliminated the need for some tooling (~$2K cost reduction) and insured the control boards will not wear out over time.

The most surprising thing I learned over this entire process is how much the industry has changed since I got into it in the 80s. In the past, the barriers to making your own game were massive. Only a few companies were making games and they were rarely international. Now, Joe Blow (ed. note: I think he meant “Jeaux Bleaux”) can make a game and distribute it internationally in no time at all. It has truly raised the bar and brought in a much larger group of people. In the “old days” you did not see too many women at cons. Now, helloooooo Cosplay =D. The market is wide open. Good ideas have many avenues to get to market. My favorite is Kickstarter but it is definitely not my only path.

There are a lot of KS projects that come out each week. It is almost overwhelming even to the hard core board gaming fan. What made you choose KS and how did you prepare for it? Are you a fan of the wunderkind of KS like Jamey Stegmaier and his blogs/book? 

First, yes I am a devoted reader of Jamey and have read his blogs multiple times. I have done what he recommends wherever I could. I am also using his primary manufacturer as one of my primary option (Panda). I chose KS in large part as my first publishing route in large part due to Jamey’s blogs. I do not own his book. The main thing I chose KS for is it eliminates the need to take out a loan to fund a game. It also quickly gives you a quick feel for your market and, worst case, it is fantastic “free marketing”. If I do not fund, I pay nothing.

 

If  you had to do it over again, what would you change about your KS project?

What would I change? Well, I have not come to a decision on that yet but I would have preferred if BGG started my ad campaign when my KS started. Ads started up early Sunday and then hit full speed Sunday night. I was already past the critical first 48 hours so the damage was done. I also have a copy of my game out to Lance Myxter the Undead Viking. Lance likes my game and will be posting a video soon. I had sent my game to Lance about 2.5 weeks before I started the campaign. Right after Lance got his prototype copy of BRM he started a new job with Tasty Minstrel Games and was jetted off to Japan for an Indie games gathering, so was unable to send in the review. On the Thursday before I launched I reviewed many similar projects that funded well in the past and saw they did not have 3rd party reviews so I decided to launch. On Sunday the 15th I emailed Lance one last time and got an immediate response and learned of his trip. We talked via phone for a bit and now I await his review. His review may not push me to funding level, but long term his video will be an important tool for me to publish BRM even if my KS does not fund. If you have never watched one of Lance’s videos, look up a game you own and watch his review of it – you will likely find he hits on the things you like. His library is unholy.

In designer diaries that I have read, designers seem to have a love/hate relationship with playtesting. Great for the feedback and iterative processes, but sometimes the feedback can be frustrating. How has your playtest experience been? 

My playtesting has been way WAY better than expected. I have gotten superb feedback from every session and have tweaked BRM when good ideas were brought forward. I made a change as late as February at Owlcon to add another die when shooting at a stationary vehicle to prevent “park and shoot” tactics” which can be effective in some circumstances.

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All right reserved, Mike Becnel Games 2016

Blind testing was great. I can sometimes have horrendous grammar so the feedback and corrections there were much appreciated. I do not have a case of “KIA” aka Know it All and am aware some of the best ideas out there will likely not be my own. Even the shape of the miniatures and my logos are more than 50% inspired by the modeler and artist (respectively) that created them. In each case I ask for a mock up, I give feedback where I feel the need arises then they finish it. So when it comes to player feedback, I treat it as “customer feedback”. I have not found any part of it frustrating and truly have enjoyed the experience. I made BRM because I wanted to play it and I love playing it with play testers and now with convention goers.

Are there are any designers out there that you admire or aspire to be? How have they influenced you? 

There are many I like but not 100%. Jamey is one example. I am a fan of his execution and business savvy; however, I am not a fan of his games (yet). I am honestly more of a war gamer. Scythe may make me a fan though. I also love the war games by Steve Jackson Games. I hope Cars Wars version 6 is a major success. Good or bad I will own it. I played it at Millenniumcon back in November when it was run by Scott Haring.  I was massively relieved it was nothing like BRM but was also intrigued by how Scott had changed it. I know I will like it, I just hope the masses love it.

From an overall execution stand point I like Roberto Di Meglio’s team at Ares games in Italy. Their execution of their WWI and WWII air combat games WoG and WoW are dead on favorites of mine. I love the pre painted minis and their continued support of the games after the designer moved to partner with Ares. I look forward to meeting Roberto face to face sometime later this year.

From a quality perspective, Fantasy Flight sets the bar in my opinion. The look and feel of their games are superb. I have way too many X-Wing minis. I owned X-Wing minis over a year before I played it. The minis looked superb sitting in my display case. The Millennium Falcon sitting next to my X Wings and Tie Fighters was a joy to look at. Once I actually had time to play the fleet grew exponentially. FF influenced every decision I made in terms of component materials, finish and graphic design. Everything has to have a quality texture, long life expectancy and strong attention to detail. I am surely not at FF’s level of quality but that is my goal. When I saw their pre painted minis I knew it was time to bring BRM to market.

One last question: best food, Cajun or Tex-Mex?

No question, Cajun. Three cans of Blue Runner and several jambalayas (in the house)!

Mike, thanks for the interview, and good luck with the Kickstarter campaign. 

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

B.J.

(Note — all pictures regarding Battle Roads are used with permission of Mike Becnel and come from Mike Becnel’s Facebook page, and all are designated as all rights reserved Mike Becnel Games 2016.)