viernes, 23 de septiembre de 2011

Speaking with Designers: Kevin Lanzing

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We recently had a chance to interview board game designer Kevin Lanzing about his upcoming release Flash Point: Fire Rescue. It's a cooperative firefighting game, a theme that has not been seen much in the world of boardgaming. We talk about the design of cooperative games, what do to with "alpha dogs" and what's next for him.

I’m really looking forward to playing Flash Point: Fire Rescue. One of the things emphasized on the game is that it’s fun. That would seem like a no-brainer but many games aren’t fun in the traditional, "yey, this is fun!" sort of way. How was taking a serious matter, like firefighting, into something that families and others could find fun?

Exciting themes are inherently "fun", and firefighting is among the most exciting themes out there. There's the whole "man versus nature" brand of heroism there. In addition, it is a very approachable theme. Almost everybody knows someone who is a firefighter, and depictions of firefighting are as common in prime-time dramas as they are on the nightly news.

Cooperative games are an interesting take on board games. Instead of the usual face to face conflict, you get to fight side by side against the big, bad board. Was the game designed with this in mind from the beginning?

The only reason I can imagine why firefighting hasn't been "gamed" more often is that it is a cooperative undertaking. There's no room for lone wolves on a firefighting team. Until recently, "cooperative gaming" seemed like an oxymoron in the board gaming hobby. Now it is more commonplace.

It's hard to say which came first in my mind - the desire to make a firefighting board game, or the desire to make it cooperative. The two went together like peanut butter and jelly, and once I sandwiched the two I was committed to the project.

Virtually every cooperative game has some sort of "spread the evil" mechanism at work. It could be disease, or monsters, whatever - the game is out to get you, and you've got to defeat it before it defeats you. As an unfeeling, unrelenting force of nature, fire seemed like the perfect antagonist to challenge the players. Since fire is a simple chemical reaction, players won't expect it to exhibit complex behavior. Some simple algorithm could be created to model the spread of the fire. I was interested in realism, but also in creating a dynamic and unpredictable challenge for players. I settled on dice as the key component because dice-rolling felt more natural and "volatile" than cards. Also: cheaper! I originally designed this game as a print-on-demand product available on The Game Crafter. Managing costs was an important consideration.

I personally love coop games but have had some bad experiences in games, where one or two people try and make everyone do as they say, taking away their choice. Does this happen in FP:FR or can it be avoided?

What you describe has been called the "alpha dog syndrome", where the most experienced players try to steer the other players to make the "right" moves. Yes, it could happen in FP:FR, as with any game or activity that rewards close coordination. Novice players are going to make lots of mistakes, which more experienced players are going to correct. The "experience gap" between players is the real issue, and I'd encourage veterans to make use of the "Family Game" mode of play as a tutorial. This is a lot simpler and a bit easier than the Full Game. Veterans can relax and let the novices make their mistakes when the game is not too challenging. Once everyone knows the ropes, the novices will understand enough to contribute meaningfully to the group strategy. This should help to tame the alpha dog problem.

Even with carefully thought out moves, it’s possible that the fire gets out of hand and players could lose. Still, win-lose doesn’t matter as much with a game, for some people. What were your thoughts on player skill vs luck factor when making your game?

It's important to reward throughtful play, but at the same time a game which can be mastered and won over 90% of the time will get stale quickly. A bit of randomness keeps things interesting - this is the essence of nearly every card game. Lots of randomness can be fun, but only when the game is short. I enjoy the occasional game of Fluxx because it doesn't demand much and can be wrapped up in 20 minutes. I'd hate it if it took much longer.

I did a lot of playtesting for this game - over a hundred plays, most of them solo. This is a very easy and rewarding game to play solo, by the way, and most games finish in 20-40 minutes. I began to develop a strategy that worked over 60% of the time on medium difficulty, but true mastery eluded me. Still, I don't think I would have been motivated to play so many times if I always won! Win or lose, the game experience is the thing. My most memorable plays were where our team lost by the thinnest of margins. I find that losing a game is more bearable when everyone else loses with me. Misery loves company!

Some games are simple to learn and some require hours of play or even many games before it “clicks” with a group. That can sometimes be an obstacle for people new to games. Was this a concern for FP:FR?

From the very start I decided that FP:FR should be easy to learn and easy to play. My weekly gaming group plays all kinds of games, but most of my friends and family are non-gamers. I bend over backwards to appeal to all types, because the alternative is that I'm not going to find many people to play my games!

Firefighting is certainly a discipline that requires education and training to perform well and safely. But even little kids know the basics - extinguishing fire, breaking down walls and doors, and carrying the victims out the door before the house falls down. This familiarity with the subject matter aids in teaching the game. All games contain some level of abstraction, but whenever feasible I like to make the game reflect the reality of its subject.

We all have a gaming history. What were some of the games you grew up playing?

My first gaming experiences were with the "classics" - games like Monopoly, Scrabble, and Clue. I enjoyed these games, but never really connected with gaming until I was introduced to Magic: The Gathering in middle school. I continued to play with a group of guys in High School. One of those guys was a Demo Monkey for Cheapass Games, so I was introduced to several light and silly games like Kill Doctor Lucky, Give Me the Brain!, and Lord of the Fries. These games were fun but not much to look at. I think the low production values of Cheapass Games were what inspired me to start designing games on my own - if they could make money doing this, surely I could do better! Sadly, they didn't make that much money and neither did I - but the dream lives on!

What's next for you? Expansions? New game?

I should probably mention that an "expansion" for FP:FR already exists. The "Urban Structures" expansion adds two additional boards, scenarios, and firefighter meeples. This was made available to Kickstarter supporters, but it is still available as a pre-order bonus from

As for future expansions, who knows? It might be fun to tackle new settings for a fire rescue, from factories to power plants to coal mines. Or wildfires? Or multi-story buildings? I will say that there's no shortage of ideas, but ideas are cheap. If the game really takes off, an expansion of some sort will be inevitable.

I'm not sure its wise to talk about games before they're ready to be released. I will say am almost always working on 2-3 projects at any given time. Also, I try not to repeat myself too often. Whatever my next release will be, it almost certainly won't be a coop.

Thanks so much for talking with us and we wish you much success with your game.

Thanks! I hope you enjoy the game!

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