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.

 

pic2557395_md
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!

 

 

…………………

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.
img_4849
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.

 

img_4294

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.

img_4291

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.