viernes, 23 de septiembre de 2011

Speaking with Designers: Chris and Cherilyn Kirkman

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Dice Hate Me is a fantastic blog and an even more fantastic name for a blog. They write some fine articles and do great reviews. Now, they can add design fun games to their cap. Carnival is a set collection game where the dice determine which actions you can take every turn. There's a campaign going on over at Kickstarter that's still going strong and I suggest you check it out before it ends on October 2nd. Chris and his wife Cherilyn, who designed the game, talked to us about Carnival, player personalities and of course, dice.

Dice Hate Me is a fantastic blog and I think I’ve gone over every post. Going from writing about games to making them, was that part of the plan all along? If so, sneaky.

Thanks! I'm really glad you like Dice Hate Me. I have always had a passion for board games, and I created the site as a place where I could share that passion. I'd like to say that I had the foresight of creating the site to help me achieve my dream of publishing board games, but that would be giving me way too much credit! Although my plan for a couple of years has been to publish some of my designs (and now, Cherilyn's), that was definitely not part of the Dice Hate Me plan - but it has been a wonderful side-effect!

Dice Hate Me is an extension of all my passions, really - games, writing, design, photography. Making board games is a natural progression that combines all those things, as well. I am very lucky in that the fans of Dice Hate Me responded so well to our first project, Carnival. Without them, it is very doubtful that we would have garnered even half the support that we have for the project.

There are many successful abstract games out there in board gaming land but Carnival has a strong theme to it. Could your game BE your game without the theme?

That's a tricky question, as you can strip many games down to their base mechanics and they will still function. You could definitely do that with Carnival - the base mechanics and gameplay would support a generic, abstract theme. However, would Carnival be as attractive or as successful as an abstract? Probably not.

When Cherilyn was hit with the inspiration for Carnival, the theme came first. The mechanics wore born from her desire to build a game where people were constructing a carnival. As we developed it, that theme was ever-present in any changes we made. I introduced the concept of the Tickets, and that's pretty much what we called them from the beginning. Even the Dice Actions tableau was created out of a desire to evoke a carnival game feel. That development and design aesthetic is definitely a part of both of us, as we love games with fun, interesting and immersive themes.

Some Dice just seem to hate people, as you know. For those players, how should they approach Carnival?

Honestly, they should approach Carnival with confidence. When Cherilyn first showed me the base mechanism of the game (roll dice, get cards) I groaned a bit because I just knew that I was going to end up getting trashed almost every game. Ironically, because of the tactical choices that you make each turn in choosing the right dice, I ended up with an impressive win record in those first few rounds of playtesting. As the game progressed through development, those wins continued because I was able to make the best out of each die roll through wise action choices and careful use of the powerful Tickets.

The great thing about rolling the dice in Carnival is that it's rare to have a roll that is useless. Almost every roll on every turn can net you a card from somewhere, be it the deck, the discard pile, or another player. Certain Dice Actions become more useful at various stages of the game, but players rarely are without useful options, especially if they're willing to spend a Ticket to alter those sometimes-pesky dice!

I really liked the post you did on the different types of gamers you encounter. Is potential player personality something you consider when designing a game?

Yes, even though that may be a secondary thought in design. For instance, with Cherilyn's base design for Carnival, there was a worry about "Sally Thinksalot" - that player with crazy analysis paralysis that has to consider every option in a game eight times before making a decision. So we massaged the mechanics a bit to help speed up the decision process. By speeding gameplay along a bit, we also hoped that any "Johnny Adderall" in the group - the player who can't sit still or pay attention if it's not his turn - would not be as distracted, holding things up for players at the table. The Tickets were introduced with the desire to help out players with bad dice karma (or simple unfortunate choices), keeping them from being obliterated by "Clover Leaf" - the world's luckiest gamer. And yes, she does exist. I game with her regularly, and she wins. By accident. A lot.

There are a lot more types of gamers that we know, game with, and love, and those gamer types will continue to influence our thought process during design. Look for a sequel to that article you mentioned on Dice Hate Me soon!

I’m a big promoter of the benefits of gaming, not just for fun but other applications like pedagogical ones as well (I’m a psychologist, btw). What do you think Carnival brings to the table in that regard?

Carnival, like many board and card games, nurtures tactical and critical thinking. Every turn, players are forced to make the best decision they can, based on the dice rolled, to gain the cards they need to bring them closer to victory. There is also a fair deal of risk management involved; if a player doesn't get quite what they need from the dice, they must decide whether to risk using a Ticket to alter the dice rolls, or hold onto them for later. Of course, there may not be a later!

The team variant for Carnival also teaches competitive/cooperative balance. It's a very different dynamic than the typical free-for-all where every player is going for the personal win. When playing in teams, players have to now decide whether its best to take from the opposing team, or take a chance in taking something useful from their teammate. It may not necessarily benefit the team in the short term, but the long-term payoff could mean the difference between winning and losing.

There is also a great social dynamic in Carnival, and that includes measuring the intent of your opponents. Many times it's fairly obvious if you have a card that an opponent needs and they're going to swipe it from you at any given chance, but there can also be some opportunity for quiet subterfuge, or boisterous posturing. It can be a lot like poker, so gamers often have to work on that perfect game face!

Carnival has exceded your expectations, donation wise, what’s next for DHMG? Where do you go from here?

Yes, as I mentioned before, the support we've received from our backers for Carnival ( has been amazing. After paying for Kickstarter and Amazon payment fees, processing and handling fees from our distributor, and various other costs like prototypes for playtesters and reviewers, we will be able to cover the cost of printing the first run of 2,000 copies, as well as the bonus items for the backers (the Ticket Tote and the Wild! Die). Anything left over after that will go directly into development for future Dice Hate Me Games releases. We will soon be releasing our next game, Pulsar (, on The Game Crafter - a print-on-demand game service that we used for making prototypes of Carnival. If Pulsar is well-received there, we may produce a limited print run of it in the future.

Dice Hate Me Games' next big release is VivaJava: The Coffee Game, by T.C. Petty III. VivaJava is a Eurostyle game for 3 to 8 players that features various paths to victory, and a unique forced cooperation aspect. Each player takes on the role of a coffee magnate, searching the globe for that perfect blend to sell on the market. In order to make that blend, each player will have to decide each round whether they want to go it alone, researching for victory points and special abilities, or work with other players, using beans gathered from each player to form a blend. There's much more to the game, and details will be coming soon on Dice Hate Me and on the VivaJava BoardGameGeek page:

I first met - and played VivaJava - at Origins this year, and I was blown away. It didn't take me very long after returning from Origins to make an offer to T.C. to publish the game. Full art development on VivaJava will begin in October. Although we will likely have some funds put away from the Carnival campaign for printing, we will be taking VivaJava to Kickstarter in January to raise the rest of the funds needed for the full print run. We hope to have the game available for Origins 2012, although that will largely depend on our printer!

Cherilyn and I both have other games in development for release in 2012 and beyond. Take the Bait is one that we are co-designing, and it was inspired by a company retreat with a lot of fishing. It is a light, Euro-style tile collection game featuring teams of four whimsical fishermen competing to bring in the biggest catch. The art is already in progress from the very talented Kwanchai Moriya, and we hope to bring it out at the end of 2012.

Beyond that, we have other titles in various stages of development, such as the quick-paced card game Soapbox Derby, and Cherilyn's ode to language, Writer's Block. I have been developing a dark, psychological thriller called Insomnia that I won't give away too much about just yet [editors note: sounds interesting!] . And the big boy on the block is Bulletproof, which I have been working on for over 10 years. It was originally developed as a multimedia game for a company I co-owned in the late 90s, but I approached the design as if it were a boardgame. It's in the prototype stage, and will be hitting playtest groups in the new year.

Needless to say, Dice Hate Me Games has a lot in store - and more than enough to keep us busy! But I hope that we are able to bring many more unique, challenging and fun games to gamers' tables for many years to come.

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