Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Five or So Questions on Journey Away

I have an interview today with Jacob Kellogg on his game Journey Away, which is currently on Kickstarter. You might remember Jacob from his approachable theory article about complexity in game design - but don't think his cool thoughts on games and design stop there! Journey Away is a game that I think is doing something fun and it's got dice pools, which means I'm interested. Check out his responses below!


Tell me a little about Journey Away. What excites you about it?

Well, one of the exciting parts of Journey Away is that it's my first project that's big enough to not be a Pay What You Want title; that feels like a threshold to me as a new designer. As for the game itself, I like that it feels like a different kind of experience than most RPGs. Fantasy is probably my favorite gaming genre, which can be problematic due to there being so many fantasy games out there already, but I think that the non-challenge-based mechanics really help this to bring something new to the hobby instead of just being another rehash. I feel good about that.

What made you go towards non-challenge-based mechanics? What about that is important to you?

The decision to use non-challenge-based mechanics was a convergence of two things. First, I had noticed that fighting monsters (and to a lesser extent, facing traps and hazards) was so common in fantasy gaming that it seemed to be treated as an inherent part of the genre. That struck me as odd, since to me "fantasy" is more about the setting. Second, as I started developing my own setting and premise for the game, it didn't make sense that curious villagers would explore a magical world with wide-eyed wonder if doing so involved facing mortal danger on a daily basis. At the intersection of those two observations is the notion of non-challenge-based gameplay.

A scenic view of a forest, hills, and mountains, with trees peeking into view. Two people sit and look off a gentle cliff, one in a vest, long sleeved shirt, pants, and boots, and the other in a skirt, tights, waist cincher, shirt, and boots. The title text "Journey Away" is in gold.
The beautiful cover art for Journey Away. I finally learned how to do alt text properly, so full description is there.
How did you make fantasy interesting and different for Journey Away?

As I touched on above, I think part of what makes some people feel like fantasy is "done to death" is that it keeps getting done the same way each time. The dice may change and each setting might have its own quirk, but ultimately they're almost always implemented as some variation of allocating attributes and skills for your best odds of success against a series of challenges. I think stripping that away offers something genuinely different. It's like if someone has only ever seen pasta served with tomato sauce and they ask me how I'll make pasta interesting and different, maybe I'll give them some chicken lo mein or beef stroganoff.

Even so, I also wanted a reasonably original setting. I ended up with a world where magic is a recent addition, because that offers lots of great benefits, like having plenty of opportunity for discovery and adding a sense of wonder to any magical artifacts you might encounter. It also offers a nice solution to the common fantasy issue of "race". People like to play fantastical beings, but there's a lot of baggage with the traditional handling of races. What I get to do in Journey Away is say that everyone's a human, and the new presence of magic causes some folks to be born with altered features. So if you want to play an "elf", you can just say that you were born with pointy ears and give yourself the traits you want; or if you like tieflings, you can give yourself those features without having to introduce race-based prejudice into the game; or if you're coming to fantasy gaming from some other background, you can easily adopt the features of a character you like (such as a sexy vampire or an anime catgirl) without having to find a race in a splatbook and convince the GM that the stats are balanced. The setting really offers a lot of freedom to everyone.

I love the idea of getting the magical features you want because of the flexibility of the world. So tell me, how do these work mechanically? How do you represent magic in the nuts and bolts?

Magic is handled the same way as any other feature of your character: you declare that something is true about your character, and assign a die size to it based on how significant or impactful you want it to be. It doesn't matter whether that character trait is your experience with fishing, your cute demeanor, or the potency of some magical ability you have. For example, a friend gave her character animal-mind-reading powers with a d10. Then, whenever we rolled for a situation where that was helpful (like when trying to negotiate with someone), a d10 would be added to the player dice pool. If it could get in the way in a situation (like when surrounded by lots of creatures), then a d10 gets added to the complication pool.

What is the core of conflict and discovery in Journey Away?

The entire primary mechanic is basically what I just described for magic: you give yourself traits to define your character, and assign die values based on how big of an impact you want them to be, with bigger dice having bigger impacts. Those traits then contribute dice to one pool when they're helpful in a situation, or to another pool when they could get in the way. Circumstances can also contribute dice to both pools, but mostly to the complication pool. Both pools are rolled, and the players arrange the dice into pairs (one die from each pool). Pairs where the die from the player pool is higher generate beneficial developments, while pairs in which the complication die is higher generate complications. The player to the left of whoever rolled then narrates the majority development type (boons or complications), then passes to the player on the right of the one who rolled, and that player narrates the remaining developments. Of course, there will be structures in place to guide this narration with prompts for those who aren't interested in or comfortable with absolute openness, but that's the basic idea.

Conflict isn't a major component of the intended emotional focus of the game. Instead, we're framing the journey as primarily positive. Even the "bad" complications serve as an opportunity for fun moments, and the game is mainly about diving headlong into the wondrous unknown. This means that the game encourages forward movement, curiosity, and laughing together when things take unexpected turns. Journey Away very much presents the discovery of new things as a positive and joyful endeavor. I want to encourage a way of thinking: that things outside your current experience aren't inherently bad and dangerous, but instead will enrich your life and make you glad you stepped outside the village to have a look.


Thank you to Jacob for an excellent interview! I hope you all enjoyed learning about Journey Away and that you'll travel on over to the Kickstarter to check it out today! Please share this interview widely!

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Friday, April 20, 2018

approachable theory: Complexity in Game Design by Jacob Kellogg

The approachable theory logo, with the text "approachable theory" and an image of two six-sided dice with one pip showing, with a curved line below it to make a smile. The dice are black with cyan for the pip and yellow with black for the pip.
The approachable theory logo.
Today's approachable theory post is by Jacob Kellogg, creator of the new Journey Away rpg on Kickstarter, and is about complexity in game design! Find out more about Jacob after the post! Please read and enjoy. 

Jacob Kellogg, selfie portrait.
Complexity in game design can be a touchy subject. Sometimes a game is so complex that it feels more like work than play, or deters your loved ones from wanting to learn it. Other times, a game might be criticized for not being complex enough, with critics saying it’s been dumbed down. In some cases, you might even find both opinions regarding a single game.

If you’re designing a game (or even just like to ponder game design theory), this can leave you with some confusion about the role of complexity in design. How do you know if a game needs to be simpler or more complex? What does complexity offer to your design? What does it cost you? I hope to shed some light on this issue by defining complexity, detailing its relationship to the separate concept of depth, and sharing some other considerations about the role of complexity as well.

Before we get started, I’d like to give a shout out to the Extra Credits team, specifically this video, for the lessons I’ve learned on this and other topics thanks to their hard work. Check them out!

Now, we can’t really discuss complexity until we’re all on the same page about what it means. When I refer to complexity in terms of game design, I’m talking about all the details and rules that you have to learn (and all the gameplay actions that are required) to play the game. For example, if you have to roll a die to determine the success of an action, that’s more complex than if the action just succeeds by default, because you have to know the rule about how that die roll works. If a player might have a special quality that lets them re-roll the die if it comes up as a 1, that’s another rule to learn, and therefore another layer of complexity.

Now that we’re all on the same page about complexity, what does it contribute to our games? While there are a few answers to that question, the primary role of complexity is the creation of depth. What do I mean by depth? Depth in a game refers to the number of meaningfully different gameplay experiences that can be had. That is, if there are two different ways of doing things in a game, having those two paths actually FEEL different in play is depth. For example, if playing a speedster in a superhero game genuinely feels different than playing a hulking brute, that’s depth. If they feel the same in play, the depth is missing.

Picture of the Shadow Amps section of Shadowrun: Anarchy & note from Brie: here's a place where you have to look at the depth and complexity of different mechanic. Does this math result in greater depth in play? What do you think?
If we want to add depth to our games, we have to put some sort of rule or mechanism in place to differentiate the different play options, to make them feel different. Doing so is the definition of adding complexity. Therefore, the way we add depth to our games is by adding complexity.

But there’s a catch.

Not every unit of complexity produces the same amount of depth. Sometimes the addition of a small, simple rule will create a multitude of gameplay experiences, while other times the creation of a vast and detailed system will hardly be felt at all. Let’s look at another example.

Say we’re designing a traditional heroic fantasy RPG and deciding how different weapons compare to each other. If we want a two-handed greatsword and a little dagger to feel different in play (and we probably do), we need to add some complexity to define their differences. So, we decide that the greatsword deals a lot of damage and uses two hands, while the dagger deals piddly damage but only uses one hand and is easy to conceal under your clothes. Great! Now players can have genuinely different gameplay experiences (depth) with these two weapons, thanks to us adding a little bit of complexity.

Now let’s say we want to go a little further: we also want shields in our games, which can’t be used with a greatsword, but it feels weird for shield-users to be restricted to daggers for weapons, so we create a longsword to sit between the two. It deals less damage than the greatsword, but more than the dagger. The degree of depth between the longsword and either of the other weapons is smaller than the gap between the greatsword and the dagger, but it’s probably still noticeable, offering real depth to players.

But let’s go even further. I mean, there are more than three types of blades in the world, right? So we start adding bigger knives, smaller swords, axes, swords with different degrees of curve to the blade, and so forth. Conscious of creating depth, we make sure that each of these weapons is technically unique: most of them deal different amounts of damage from each other, and when we ran out of unique damage amounts, we started giving the redundant weapons special abilities, like slight bonuses to disarming your opponent or breaking their shields.

By the time we’re done, we have a two-page chart of weapons, but they’re so close to each other in their abilities that a character with one weapon could swap it out for a similar one and never notice the difference. We’ve added quite a bit of complexity: the player has to read two pages of listings and learn what all the abilities mean before they can make an informed decision about their weapon choice. And yet, we’ve added precious little depth: while the high-damage weapons feel different from the mid- and low-damage weapons, everything else feels the same. The feel of gameplay is almost identical to what it was when we only had three weapons.

This is what we must watch out for as designers: just because game options are technically different (complexity), that doesn’t necessarily mean that they feel different (depth). Before adding a layer of complexity to our games, we must ask ourselves whether the resulting gameplay options will feel meaningfully different from each other. If not, we are not creating depth in our game, and we need to seriously consider whether adding that complexity is truly a good idea.

Dice rolling on a white table, by John W. Sheldon.
The creation of depth is the main purpose of complexity. However, sometimes complexity can offer other benefits by reinforcing the theme of your game. For example, intentionally overwhelming your players with complexity can create a sense of panic that might enhance gameplay (a good example of this would be Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, whose complexity-induced tension is half the point of the game). Alternatively, if your game is meant to be a faithful representation of something else, making sure you cover everything might be worth the complexity even if it’s not reflected in the depth of gameplay (for example, the Elements of Harmony in Tails of Equestria have literally no effect on gameplay, but fans of the source material might have scoffed at an omission).

Complexity is an important part of game design. While some games need complexity to support their themes, its main purpose is as the main source of depth. Designers must decide how much depth they want in their games, figure out how much complexity will be required to get there, and then reconcile the two until our games have sufficient depth without excessive complexity. We’re looking for that sweet spot.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you find these concepts as helpful for your own designs as they’ve been for mine. All the best to you and yours, and best of luck in whatever your next adventure is.

Thank you so much, Jacob, for writing this post and simply sharing some thoughts about complexity!

About the writer: 
Jacob S Kellogg, he/him

Describe your role in the gaming community.  
I'm a fledgling new game designer, and founder of Purple Aether Games.

What do you love about games and gaming?  
I love how games can bring different people together and give them a shared experience, and how it can help people think about things differently.
@JacobSKellogg on Twitter
@JacobSKellogg on Mastodon (dice.camp)
@PurpleAetherLLC on Twitter
@PurpleAetherGames on Mastodon (dice.camp)
Journey Away RPG Kickstarter

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Five or So Questions on The Sword and the Loves

Hi all, today I've got an interview with Antonio Amato from Mammut RPG on The Sword and the Loves, an Arthurian legends inspired game using mechanics adjusted from Archipelago, one of my favorite games, to fit the themes. It's a lovely read and I wanted to let you all learn more about it! Enjoy Antonio's interview below.

Full disclosure: I edited the English translation of the text.


The cover and example of the Sword and the Loves cards and map, illustrated in black & white.
Tell me a little about The Sword and the Loves. What excites you about it?

I think that “The Sword and the Loves” is the game I wanted to play when I was a teenager and I discovered the Arthurian cycle and the stories of the knights of the Round Table. During the summer vacation, I read a book about King Arthur and his knights, and I instantly fell in love. Then a couple of years ago I discovered “Archipelago” and I immediately thought it would be the perfect game to tell those stories. I then started writing my Archipelago hack.

​​What are the key aspects of the mechanical structure in ​​The Sword and the Loves that you think carry the emotional impact of the Arthurian legends?

Undoubtedly, the hopefulness and the bleakness. These are typical themes of the Arthurian legends that serve as a starting point for players to make the story more dramatic and to emphasize the role of the protagonist. This is a mechanic that I borrowed in part from "Love in the time of Seið", a game that I always recommend to play.

A black and white illustration of a knight lying in bed, ill, while a femme person looks at them, dismayed.
​​How did you approach an era and themes that had complex perspectives regarding gender and agency?

It was not easy, I have to admit it. Through hopefulness and bleakness, I tried to give thickness to the archetypes (especially those most penalized by a vision of the women that was a product of its time). I also thought the game needs a change in perspective because I believe that embracing those stories (contextualising and renewing them) is a pure act of love. That's why I decided to devote an archetype to a figure that owes much to Tolkien's re-reading of the female figure: the wandering damsel.

Do you think you could elaborate just a little to the last question to explain some of what the wandering damsel is? I think that would be useful.

The wandering damsel is a homage to all those brave and free women we can read about on modern and contemporary novels. However, I didn't want just to create a "female version" of the wandering knight, then I choose to develop a different type characterised by a strong connection to adventure, exploration, and freedom. While the wandering knight has a special relationship with his family, the “positive themes” of the wandering damsel are the valour and the gravitas, two virtues particularly appreciated in leaders. The archetype is inspired by Éowyn and Joan of Arc.

Illustrated cards representing the character archetypes, with the wandering damsel enlarged.

What about Archipelago and Love in the time of Seið fit with The Sword and the Loves so well mechanically and fictionally?

Archipelago (as well as Love in the time of Seið) is a story game in which the destiny of the characters is at the heart of the gaming experience. From the very first moment, I thought that The Sword and the Loves had to rely on such a structure. This allowed me to remain faithful to the literature of reference, while giving me sufficient freedom to change the game in the direction chosen by me. For example, the idea for the roles of guide and misleader come from Love in the time of Seið, even if with some little modifications.

A detailed black and white illustration of someone pulling a sword from an anvil.
You spoke of the hopefulness and the bleakness. How did you come up with these for each archetype? What do you think they will contribute most to play?

Hopefulness and bleakness are flags for players. You can use it to corroborate and consolidate the narration of other players or to play with the "dark side" of their characters. I based hopefulness and bleakness on the chivalric tradition related to the respective archetypes. So, for example, the hopefulness of the Wise Old Man is the tradition, while the bleakness is the hubris. I think that hopefulness and bleakness convey the right atmosphere among the players because they are seeds for the fiction.
The cover of The Sword and the Loves, which features an illustration of a femme person wearing a crown and holding up a sword, in front of a detailed landscape background. 

Thank you so much to Antonio for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed learning about The Sword and the Loves and that you'll check it out soon!

This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, email contactbriecs@gmail.com.

Approachable Theory: Coming Friday!

The approachable theory logo, with the text "approachable theory" and an image of two six-sided dice with one pip showing, with a curved line below it to make a smile. The dice are black with cyan for the pip and yellow with black for the pip.

Hi all, I have a new series (only a few coming up so far, but it's here) called approachable theory that's going to focus on writing posts about game theory, design, and similar topics in a tone that's approachable for new gamers, non-academics, and designers who are getting their start. I'm going to try to do some of my own once I get done with grad school, but in the meantime, I'm hiring other writers!

The criteria I have for the posts are that they're under 2000 words, hopefully under 1500, and I have to be able to read them without using Google more than 3 times. Youns know I have trouble reading research at times due to its dense text and unfamiliar terminology, and I wanted theory posts that I could learn from on my worst days.

To pay the writers, I'm going to be using the patreon.com/briecs payout from each post, and pay any remaining funds personally to ensure they're paid $0.05/word, which is just the best I can do right now - and hopefully you will all consider it a valid rate. I'm still taking pitches for it, and I'd love to get more diverse writers on the schedule over the summer.

Coming up first will be Jacob Kellogg, who has a game on Kickstarter right now called Journey Away. Jacob's writing about complexity in game design, and I'm really looking forward to you all seeing the post!

All I ask is for you all to join me in treating the series with respect. Please don't interrogate the writers about "what a game is" or if the subject is "really theory" – that's antithetical to this series. Remember, also, that not everyone has a well-educated, well-read background and that some people were born well after the original D&D could drive. If you find that something is legitimately factually incorrect or ethically problematic, please do raise the question. Just don't be a jerk, and be enthusiastic for the material.

Thank you all! Looking forward to another series of posts and hoping it makes game design and games more...approachable.


This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, email contactbriecs@gmail.com.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Five or So Questions on Two-Player Games and Star Crossed

Hi all! I have a stellar interview today with Alex Roberts about two player games and her new game Star Crossed, a game that uses a block tower (like Jenga) to tell stories of forbidden romance. It's currently on Kickstarter! Why don't you check out her responses?


Art by Jess Fink of a man in a long, fancy jacket and beige pants with a ruff collar sitting across the table from a purple being with a pink ponytail thing, also in fancy dress, both gazing romantically at each other while one pulls a block from the tower.
Alex Roberts, being intensely cute *and* talented.
Tell me why you care about two-player games, and how that ties into Star Crossed. What excites you about them?

For me, the joy of roleplaying games is in the connection with other players; not that we told a great story but that we told it together, not that we played cool characters but that we built this great character dynamic, or had these special shared moments with them. That's a kind of satisfaction you can only get from this art form. So, having identified what I'm after, the challenge I get as a designer is to figure out how to generate that effect, and intensify it. Frankly, it's a miracle that strong moments of connection ever happen at tables of five people - that's a lot of interests, ideas, desires, and boundaries to align! It's wonderful when everyone in a group is totally on the same wavelength, but it's rare. With Star Crossed, I wanted a feeling of intense creative connection, as frequently and intensely as possible. I wanted to see it right from character generation.

183 Days, by Sara Williamson and James Stuart, is a huge inspiration to me because playing it was a profound act of connecting to another person. And of course I have to mention Emily Care Boss' Breaking the Ice - also a game experience where I felt very much in tune with the other player, and it was in a gentler, less intense, and more playful way. I really fell in love with those games, which I think put me in a certain design head space. Even the >2 player games I love have a dyadic focus in some way. Avery Alder's A Place to Fuck Each Other is for 3 players, but the scenes are always between two characters, and the GM role gets passed around. Danielle Lewon's Kagematsu can take up to 5 players, but every scene is an intense one-on-one with the GM (and the other players do not get bored, trust me.)

Also... there's a practical aspect to 2-player gaming. Scheduling is hard. Not everyone you know is into roleplaying. A lot of adults organize themselves into intimate dyadic relationships. It helps to have some 2-player options on your shelf!

As a designer, how do you mechanically make two-player games interesting?

It's easy! You've got two people to think about. They're going to be focused on each other by default. Helping them be present to the scene and invested in what's happening will just take giving them something that keeps their creative energy moving without being distracting. Remember that mechanics don't produce great ideas; the players do that. The game itself is just a hamster wheel. It enables and allows running; it doesn't have to provide an incentive because hamsters love running. And people love being creative! I'm oversimplifying by the way; if anyone else gave an answer like this I would complicate the heck out of it.

Oh, and you can prototype mechanics so rapidly in a 2-player game because you only need to ask one person for help!

Art by Jess Fink of a fallen block tower between a blue-translucent person and a dark skinned feminine person in a lab coat.
Is there a difference between designing for romantic relationships versus platonic or familial?

I would say that designing for romantic relationships isn't a specific enough focus! The relationships in Star Crossed are almost always romantic, but sometimes they're entirely sexual, and sometimes they can't fit into any category I know. They are only united by the quality of compelling impossibility. I'm designing to produce desirable relationships that can't be. So how do you make players want a relationship to work? Fortunately for me, you start by telling them it probably can't.

If you're trying to give players tools to generate interesting relationships, I would say drill down and get as specific as you can, or help them do so. Family? Vague. Parent and child? Ok. Distant parent and over-achieving child? Now you're onto something. And even that can be made so much more detailed and interesting. You could make a game where one person plays the Distant Parent, and the other the Over-achieving Child. And it would be so replayable. Hm, that's a good idea, actually.

An image from a playtest of Star Crossed of a tower in a precarious state, with someone in the background covering their face in excitement and anticipation.
How do you playtest a game like Star Crossed, or really any two-player game, and make sure it's not just like those two specific people getting the good play out of it?

You test with a lot of different people, in a lot of different relationships to each other. For example, it was especially important to me that some folks on the ace/aro spectrum play and have a good time. Also: it was sweet to hear couples enjoying the game, but to me, a much greater test was putting it in front of total strangers. I played it with a complete stranger myself actually, at a con. It was fun. I was relieved.

I always talk about how game mechanics feel in design, not just about how they function. What are some mechanics you see in two-player games like these, and specifically Star Crossed, make players feel?

Well, I have to call out 183 Days for using a card that prompts extended eye contact. It's so effective! Is closeness an emotion? Being relaxed, happy, and connecting those emotions to the person you are currently with--that's what it does. And I think Star Crossed does the connecting part too, but in a more panicked "we're in this together" kind of way. Which is great. I ask playtesters what they felt while playing; that's often my first question. They usually mention excitement, trepidation, nervousness, joy--even though the stories sometimes end sadly, there's quite an emotional journey to get there. Of course, I don't have to ask about certain things. When I see players laughing, putting their hands over their mouths, even making little squeals of excitement! That's when I know I'm nailing it.

Art by Jess Fink of an astronaut and a satyr playing with a block tower that is positioned on top of a spaceship pod.


Thanks so much to Alex for the interview! I hope you've all enjoyed the interview and that you'll click over to the Kickstarter for Star Crossed and fall in love!

This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Five or So Questions on Familiars of Terra

Hey all, I've got a great interview with Elizabeth Chaipraditkul on the new tabletop game Familiars of Terra, which is currently on Kickstarter! Liz got in touch and when I heard "familiars of Terra is a tabletop roleplay game set in a beautiful world where everyone has their own animal familiar" I knew many of you would be super amped to check it out. So here's the interview!

A dark skinned person with a beard, wearing a fancy shirt with a fur collar, with an animal that l can only describe as a poodle with wings. SO CUTE.
Tell me a little about Familiars of Terra. What excites you about it?

Familiars of Terra is a tabletop roleplay game set in Terra, a fantasy world in which every person has an animal familiar. As a heroic Seeker you travel the lands with your familiar healing the devastation of a war which left nations scared and people scattered. The game is all about exploration, adventure, and heroics. If you're a fan of the Golden Compass or Pokemon you'll probably enjoy our game.

What makes me most excited about Familiars of Terra is that it is a very positive game. Yes there was a war, yes your main job as a Seeker is to make sure something terrible like that never happens again, but behind all that is hope. Being a Seeker is about making the right choices when they matter most and when there are grey decisions - helping, healing, and thriving. I wanted to make a game that left people feeling good about themselves, that built them up, and also had a bunch of awesome animals in it. :)

What was the initial design and conception process like? If you just woke up one day and wrote it, what was the spark? If it took a longer road, how did you find your way?

After I finished WITCH I kinda needed a break from the dark. I love dark, dramatic games, but focusing so much on that type of world was really exhausting. You can't live in shadows forever it isn't healthy. So Familiars of Terra really came from a place of wanting to design something happy and uplifting. I wanted to write about heroes and cool animals. That's where the game really began. From there I started testing different mechanics with dice and then eventually with cards - once we had the base system it took off from there. Funnily enough, I had a really clear picture in my mind of what Terra looked like right from the start, so the mechanics was where I had to invest a lot of development time.
Left to right: a person with a beard and mustache, a necklace with a big shiny gem in it, and a fancy shirt and collar in blue and beige; a dark skinned person with round pigtails, in a cream colored midriff shirt and beautiful facial jewelry; a white person with red hair wearing a brown vest with a fluffy collar over a light blue dress; a dark skinned person with dreadlocks, wearing a purple-ish scarf and a long green vest; and an indigenous-appearing person wearing a strappy vest, with organic lines down their cheek in red, carrying a large stick on their back.
When you say grey decisions, what do you mean by that, and how does it tie to the heart of the Seeker-familiar relationship?

By grey decisions, I guess I mean very real decisions. Life is really difficult with out any supernatural threats and the choices we make as humans are tough. In Terra I wanted to tackle real problems, but then in a fantasy world. You basically play a modern day hero and that means the decisions you're faced with are realistically tough - we don't have many true villains in the game, but we do have a lot of people who think differently than one another. We have people who hurt people to help themselves (or their families) and Seekers are often faced with greed. However, as a Seeker you fight for the greater good - you're part of the generation that will heal the world. It's your job to make the tough calls and practice radical empathy and creative problem solving. You're faced with grey decisions, but you play hope :).

A person wearing flowing clothing with beautiful geometric patterns who has a red line across their cheeks and nose, carrying a harpoon-like weapon and standing beside a large deer with a saddle.
How do the mechanics tie in with your familiar and that relationship?

Actually, in Familiars of Terra you have one character sheet for two characters. Half your sheet is for your familiar and half your sheet is for yous Seeker. You can make checks with either and as a player it's basically like playing one soul in two bodies. Also, familiars are always the one to fight! Humans are weak compared to familiars, so in order to protect their companions, familiars are always the one to get into a scuffle. We have lots of cool Combat Powers for you to pick and customize how your familiar fights. Finally, each familiar gets a legacy which is both story and mechanics. By following a story you create to your familiar's epic destiny you earn cool new Traits which alter how your familiar looks, moves, and even fights.

How do players engage the mechanics to express empathy, and how do the familiars help with that?

A lot of our mechanics work by 'defining' things. You can buy Items and then in the moment when you want to use them - you define the item's history and how it is used. This encourages player's creativity and allows people to take different paths to problem solving. A lot of times you make a check and you're done - you succeed or fail and sometimes that's absolutely terrible when you're trying to do something kind or empathetic. When I was creating Familiars of Terra I really wanted to make sure doing something empathetic or creative (or anything really) relied on more than that. By having a mechanical work around your character can use one check isn't the end of empathy, it's a challenge and an encouragement to use the items you have at your disposal to still reach your desired outcome.

Familiar-wise, even though familiars can fight, they definitely don't have to. In fact, lots of familiar's traits are based around healing, comforting, and empathizing. For example, you can have a comforting familiar who can calm situations and make people feel better in their presence - much how 'mundane' therapy dogs do as well :). 

A red-haired person in a green jacket and yellow dress reaching their hands up to the sky where cats with wings are flying, with the text "Familiars of Terra" over the background of a seaside sunset.

Thanks to Liz for the great interview and for sharing Familiars of Terra with me and you all, my readers! I hope you enjoyed the interview and that you'll check out the Familiars of Terra Kickstarter and maybe help it reach its goal!  

P.S. - I tried to find out if it was okay to use "dark skinned" as a descriptor and I saw it used in some places where it seemed okay, but if it is not, please email contactbriecs at gmail and I will update the post as soon as possible. Thank you.

This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, email contactbriecs@gmail.com.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Five or So Questions on Good Dog, Bad Zombie

Today I have an interview with Brian Van Slyke on his cooperative board game Good Dog, Bad Zombie, which sounds like a heckin' good time - and is on Kickstarter for a few more days! Check out what Brian has to say about his game below. 

Brian shared some cute dog pictures, and I wanted to note that backer levels at $75 or more help with donations to One Tail at a Time, which is a no-kill all-breed dog rescue in Chicago area. Yay!

Note: There are more images of the game on the Kickstarter page, I just felt some of them didn't read well here, so I used pictures of Lupin (Brian's dog) instead. 


Lupin’s “Snuggle” ability unleashes an energizing flurry of licking!
A Dog player sheets, with an illustration of a brown dog with a white chest, detailing the dog's stats and abilities.
Tell me a little about Good Dog, Bad Zombie. What excites you about it?

Good Dog, Bad Zombie [GDBZ] is a cooperative board game where players have to bark, lick, and sniff their way through the apocalypse to save the hoomans they love. Think Homeward Bound meets The Walking Dead.

The game has been on-and-off development for three years, and I just love that it drips dogginess. My favorite thing that has ever been said about it (and any game I've ever made, really) comes from a preview from Everything Board Games: "GDBZ is an immersive dog-mind experience. Every single detail is saturated with flavor. It wouldn’t really surprise me if it was designed by an actual dog, or maybe a kindly werewolf. I mean that in a good way."

Really, that's what we wanted - to create a game that was wholesome and also a little terrifying all at once. I love how I'll hear players shout, "I'm going to lick you!" and "I found a hooman!" and "Woof, woof!" totally normally. This game really gets people in the mind of a dog. 

So what do you know about dogs, and what do you know about zombies? How are they applied in GDBZ? 

I know that I love dogs, and I know that dogs love us. Having a dog got me through one of the toughest times of my life. 
Brian & his dog Lupin. Lupin is reddish brown with floppy ears, Brian is bearded and wearing a flannel shirt.

I’d always had dogs growing up, but after I graduated college, my girlfriend (and now wife) was afraid of dogs. She’d never had them growing up. Chalk it up to either annoyance or persistence, but after ten years of me begging for us to go look for a dog at a shelter, she finally she gave in. And after three days of living with us, she and our dog became best friends. In many ways, I became the third wheel in the relationship. But I’m not complaining.

I know it’s a cliche to say that dogs are humanity’s best friend, but I think it’s really true. Dogs understand us on a fundamental level that I’m not even sure we understand ourselves. In many ways, I think a lot of us prefer the company of many dogs than many humans for that reason. And that’s why I wanted to make a game about dogs being amazing. 

In terms of zombies, I’ve always found zombie lore fascinating. I’m a huge scaredy-cat (pun intended), and I can’t deal with horror movies, but I’ve always made an exception for zombie movies and shows. However, one thing that I learned from a friend of mine many years back, is that zombies are often a projection of our fear of an uprising of the working class. He’s a professor that studies culture and has given lectures on zombies (cool job!). And that’s the reason in GDBZ we made the zombies look super professional, wearing business suits and giving off vibes of riches and wealth. We thought it was a fun way to spin the traditional narrative. 

Lupin lying on his back Lupin is reddish brown with floppy ears.

What kind of dogs can players play in GDBZ, and are various dogs different in any way? 

When we first launched Good Dog, Bad Zombie, there were only a few dogs you could play as - Lupin (based off my dog) the boxer/ridgeback mix, Waine the Alaskan mix, Captain Woofster the Great Dane, and Miss Fuzzy Ears. However, because of the success of the campaign, we’ve unlocked four additional dogs: Angelica the Corgi, Willow the St. Bernard, Gizmo the Boston Terrier, and Bandit the Dalmatian.

And yes, every dog is different! Both in real life as well as in Good Dog, Bad Zombie. In the game, each dog has the same basic set of abilities and actions. However, every dog has their own unique and powerful ability, which are triggered by playing “Good Doggo” cards. For instance, Lupin’s “Snuggle” ability allows players to restock on Energy Cards. Captain Woofster’s “Hunt” ability allows him to remove extra zombies from the board. Willow’s “Sniff the Air” ability allows her to peek at upcoming scent cards and plan around them.

We’re super happy that each time you play Good Dog, Bad Zombie, you can take on a different mix of characters (and breeds) and tackle the game in new ways!

Lupin with a blanket over his head. Lupin is reddish brown with floppy ears.
How do these doggie mechanics make such an accurate and immersive experience?

This was hugely important to us when we were designing GDBZ. We wanted the game to drip dogginess. Not just in its name, but in its spirit, its art, its mechanics, and even in terms of what people say while playing. 

So, for instance, you’ll hear people shout “I’m going to lick myself!” often through each game. Everything you do in Good Dog, Bad Zombie is based around and named after a dog-like action. This really gets players into the spirit and mood of being a dog pack. So, for instance, even though it’s not a rule, you’ll often hear players burst into random bouts of howling after they rescue a human. 

This game is all about being good dogs, and the love between humans and dogs. So in Good Dog, Bad Zombie - dogs don’t inherently hate zombies. They’ll often be trying to play with a zombie or chase it. It’s not until the zombie threatens a live human that dogs become protective. That’s something that we think makes GDBZ unique - it’s fun and playful, with a dash of horror, all wrapped up into a zombie game.

Somewhere out there, our hoomans are waiting!
An image of the game board showing "Central Bark" and some tokens.
What's your favorite part of the gameplay and fictional structure of GDBZ?

My favorite part of the gameplay of GDBZ is the cooperative aspect! As we say in the Kickstarter page, there’s no room for the lone wolf in GDBZ. Players really have to help each other and strategize together to rescue the humans and protect their pack. If a player is too low on Energy cards and a zombie startles them, you might have to move the Feral Track up (and that’s how you lose the game!). Often it takes two dogs working together to get a human home safely to Central Bark without being eaten by a zombie. This is really a game where it requires everyone to win together. 

My favorite part of the fictional structure of GDBZ is how we were able to slightly tweak traditional zombie lore. So, for instance, in this game, the only thing that zombies are afraid of are dog barks. So whenever your dog barks, it’ll send a zombie running away from you - often off of a cliff! Also, in GDBZ, humans are helpless and kind of dumb - and they won’t survive the apocalypse without the aid of the brave, smart, loving doggos. I feel like we were able to take territory that’s been well-tread, but put a new, fun, funny, doggy spin on it.

Lupin with a big bone. Lupin is reddish brown with floppy ears.

Thanks so much to Brian for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed the interview and that you'll check out Good Dog, Bad Zombie on Kickstarter today! I'm personally super excited to play Captain Woofter!

This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, email contactbriecs@gmail.com.

Monday, April 2, 2018

I love you and I adore you updated!

I love you and I adore you, my queer love letter writing game, is now fancier and up on https://briecs.itch.io/i-love-you-and-i-adore-you!

the very simple cover for I love you and I adore you

This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, email contactbriecs@gmail.com.