Board Gaming · Interview · Solo Month

Interview with Scott Allen, Designer of Pocket Landships

If you missed it, yesterday I did a highlight of just some of the games that Scott Allen has designed. Be sure to check those out, as they are all available to print out and play! He was also kind enough to answer some questions for me, and so here is our interview:

 

  1. What inspired you to design games playable only as a solitaire experience?

As I think back, I have to credit Todd Sanders for designing so many great solo print ‘n play games. I think sort of subconsciously, he probably inspired me, or at least demonstrated that a game designer can be successful by designing primarily solo games.

In addition, it was sort of following a natural flow:

  • Most of my game designs are for Boardgamegeek.com contests. For those contests, solo games are easier for people to playtest – since they don’t need to recruit other people to play some unknown game they just printed out. This means in most contests, the solo game designs get played more.
  • As a designer, it’s easier for me to playtest the design if it is a solo game.
  1. You’ve done several 9-card nanogame designs. What do you enjoy about designing for that format? What are some of the unique challenges that come from having only 9 cards?

Four things I enjoy about the 9-card nanogame design contests are:

  • The design constraint. As a designer, I struggle with a wide open “canvas” of no design constraints. I think putting constraints on a design is a good thing. And maybe (as I think about it more), it’s sort of a defense mechanism too. If I can only use 9 cards, you can’t expect me to design the next Gloomhaven, or Scythe, or Spirit Island, or whatever. So, in that way, I can design a game with less pressure of it being compared to a “real” game.
  • The ease of modifying your own game as the design progresses. I’ve designed one larger board game (Highlands, with a game board, a player mat, and 2 decks of cards), and as you are designing a game like that, at least once you get past the hand written prototypes, making changes takes a lot of effort, and that may discourage you from making changes you know you should make. In a 9 card game, the whole game fits on one sheet of paper, so there is very little effort in changing the game.
  • The ease of playtesting other designers games. I want to be a good “citizen” in the design contests, and that means playing other designers’ games. With only 9 cards, that’s easy to do, so I am able to playtest a lot more games than in some of the bigger format contests.
  • It’s a very well run contest (run by “Kingspud” Joseph Propati) with a very good community of designers participating, so it’s just a pleasure to spend time with those folks and help them with their designs as they help me with mine.

The unique challenge is the obvious one – how to fit a fun, engaging game in only 9 cards. So, it usually leads to double sided cards, multi-use cards, and other inventive solutions. It forces the designer to be creative, and I think that is a good thing.

  1. What about the Mint Tin design contest, which you’ve done a few times now as well. What do you enjoy about designing for that format? What are some of the unique challenges that come from having such a small footprint for components?

The answers are probably the same as the 9 card contest: design constraint, ease of modifying the small footprint game, ease of playtesting other games, and a well run contest by “R4D6”.

The interesting constraint is balancing components: more dice means less room for cubes, or cards, or whatever. So, it’s a constraint the designer has more control over, which makes it interesting. If I want 40 cards, that means I’ll only have room for a few cubes and probably no dice. If I want a lot of dice, I will have to limit the number or size of the cards.

This contest also is special for me because it was the first BGG design contest I participated in back in 2015.

  1. Falcon Master was a game that caught my attention from the title. What inspired you to design a game around falconry? Did you have to do a lot of research in the process of designing that game?

The original inspiration for the game was actually another entry in the same contest (the 2016 Solitaire PnP contest – which is another of my 3 favorite design contests on BGG, expertly run by Chris Hansen). The game is called Artisans, by Chris Alton “The Painted Goblin”. In that solo game, the player collects materials, then builds items for victory points. I wanted to take that one step further somehow – collect material, build an item, then use the item to score points. I bounced around a few ideas, then settled on falconry. I am not a falconer, but have always admired that hobby/sport/lifestyle from a distance.

fALCONI didn’t HAVE to do a lot of research, I GOT to do a lot of research while designing this game. In other words, it wasn’t a chore, it was very enjoyable. For example, one source was the “Book of Saint Albans” from 1486 which lists a hierarchy of falcons based on the falconer’s social status – from a priest to a poor man to a young man to a squire, etc. So, I used that hierarchy to rank the falcons used in the game.

  1. I understand you’ve signed your first game, Pocket Landship, to get published. Walk us through that experience of finding out your game was going to get published.

pOCKET

Pocket Landship (a 9 card contest game) has sort of struck a chord with a lot of people, and that is very flattering to me. Last time I checked, I think people from something like 22 countries around the world have rated the game, commented on the game, or recorded plays on BGG.

When I saw that a new game publishing company, Side Room Games, was looking for games to publish, I figured that of my game designs, Pocket Landship probably has the best chance of success. My thought process specifically with submitting to Side Room games was just “They are just starting out, and I have never had a game published before, so maybe we’ll be a good fit for each other.” Pocket Landship is a small game, so I thought working with a smaller publisher would be a logical way to go.

So, I submitted the game to Side Room Games in early December. From there, it wasn’t all of a sudden I got signed, it was more gradual. Dustin Culbertson made first contact with me through e-mail. We had some good discussions about the game, then he introduced me to other members of the Side Room Games team. They took the time to get to know the game, and poke and prod, and ask questions, and suggest improvements, which I appreciated.

In early January, I received sort of a verbal commitment from Dustin, then a few weeks later we had both signed the agreement.

It’s been great working with Side Room Games to improve and expand the game, and I’m sure my involvement will continue in the months ahead.

  1. What can you share with us about the design of the published version of Pocket Landship (name, setting, changes from the PnP version, Kickstarter date, etc.)

The base mechanics from Pocket Landship are definitely still the core of the game, but we’re adding in some ship/player powers as well as some new enemy types. The original Pocket Landship game was 9 cards, then I made an expansion, “Pocket Landship: The Second Front” that added 9 more cards. I would guess that the published game will be in the 25-35 card range, and we are planning on larger tarot size cards with professional art and graphic design as well. The solo game is shaping up as 3 player cards versus 9 enemy cards.

Another planned change that I am looking forward to is a 2 player co-op mode – two player vehicles (3 cards each) against probably 12 enemies.

When I started designing the original game, I was thinking of a World War 2 tank theme. But, as I was searching for public domain art to use for the game, I stumbled on World War 1 tank art by Muirhead Bone. So, it was sort of by accident that the theme (and name) of this game is related to World War 1. But, Pocket Landship is not a historical WWI game. It’s not Great Britain against Germany, it’s not based on a specific battle. I read that in total, Germany only deployed about 20 tanks in World War 1, so tank battles during that war were not common. So, in a way Pocket Landship has always been set in sort of a fantasy or alternative reality. So, we are planning on continuing that a bit.

I enjoy some steampunk styles and art, but I think it’s a setting that is getting pretty saturated. So, we basically just continued down the timeline: What’s after the steampunk era and World War 1? Dieselpunk – think of it as an alternatives 1920s – 1940s where internal combustion engines have replaced the steam power from steampunk. So, our plan is to have the game set in a dieselpunk style world with the player commanding an airship (or aership, or aeroplane, etc.), and the enemy as some sort of automatons, robots, etc.

There’a a bit of a risk with this plan, right? We can’t call the game Pocket Landship anymore, since there won’t be landships in the game. And, if the main draw of the game was the theme, we’re changing that as well. Side Room Games and I believe that there is more to the popularity of Pocket Landship than the setting, so we hope the gaming public sees that as well and enjoys the new theme, vehicles, and enemies.

The working title for the to be published game is “Pocket Airships”, although that is not finalized.

There is not a firm Kickstarter launch date, but Side Room Games is planning for this fall.

  1. Highlands is a game that, according to its description, was inspired by Scythe. What aspects of Scythe do you feel this game captured? How did you decide to use Chess game pieces as part of the design? Beyond those who love Scythe, who else would be the intended audience for this unique game?

Highlands

Scythe is my favorite board game, and what I like most about it is the combination of:

  • Simple choices each turn (move, build, upgrade, etc.), but a lot of depth in the decision making by the player
  • The tactile satisfaction of moving the miniatures around the board, and even moving a cube from the top part of the player board to the bottom
  • Multiple paths to victory

So, those are the main parts of Scythe that I tried to capture in Highlands.

In my opinion the biggest (maybe the only) drawback to Scythe as a solo game is its size and set up time. All those cool mechs and cubes, and bits, and 5 decks of cards, and coins naturally take a while to set up. That’s not a big deal in a multiplayer game, but for solo, it’s more than I prefer. So, for Highlands there are only 2 decks of cards: one is like the objective deck, and the other is like a combination of the encounter deck, automa deck, and combat card deck.

Ever since I stumbled upon the Lewis chessmen, I have been fascinated by them: made my Vikings or descendants of Vikings probably in the 1100’s, discovered in Scotland in the 1800’s. So, I couldn’t resist using them to get that tactile miniature sensation in a PnP game. And, since they were discovered in Scotland, I thought that setting the game in 1100’s or so Scotland was a great choice.

In Highlands, the King piece is like the character piece in Scythe. The Queen and Bishop are more similar to buildings (immovable, un-attackable), the Knight and Rook are similar to mechs in Scythe, and the Pawns are like workers.

hIGH

My original design was actually played on a chessboard, and I still like that idea. I imagine bringing a deck of custom cards and a player mat on vacation, and if your destination (bed & breakfast, AirBnB, Aunt Edna’s, etc.) has a chess set, you are all set to play a game.

  1. The Count of Nine is part of the current contest running for the 9 card microgame contest on BGG. You’ve designed a game that is definable as a eurogame with just 9 cards, no other components, and is a solo game. Tell me more about the idea to make the game and the struggles to do so with just 9 cards and nothing else.

Count

It comes back to that word I’ve used a lot: constraints. Before the 9 card contest this year, there was a lot of discussion on expanding the number of components allowed (which is fine), but I just decided to go in the opposite direction. So, I just piled constraint on top of constraint: a solo eurogame seemed like a fun challenge, then on top of that, no components.

 

The struggle was fitting a whole euro game onto 9 cards. I did it by using both sides of the cards, and splitting each side of the card into 4 sections: 2 structures and 2 resources. So, on the front sides of the cards, there are a total of 18 structures to choose from and 18 resources available to build them. Then, when a card is discarded, it is flipped so the player has access to the resources and structures on the back side of the cards too.

  1. What advice would you give to someone wanting to try their hand at designing a solo game, especially for one of these great BGG contests?

If you want to participate in BGG contests as a designer, start now as a playtester. There is almost always at least one contest going on. So, go playtest a few games, give feedback. You’ll be helping other designers, but it will also help you see what’s all involved in the contests: designing a game that works, that’s fun, that people want to play, art, graphic design, writing rules, answering questions on the forum, etc.

Specifically for solo games, the designer usually has to make sure to design in tension. In multi-player games, the other players typically provide the tension. In solo games, the designer needs to add in the tension. That could be some sort of timer (a certain number of turns), or some sort of AI (artificial intelligence). For example, in Highlands, the enemy moving in to surround your castle provides the tension while you as the player is trying to move around and earn victory points.

  1. Finally, where can people go to find out more about the games you’ve designed, to get updates on Pocket Landship, and just to find you on social media in order to keep up with what you’re working on next?

The easiest place to find my games is Boardgamegeek.com. My designer page that contains all my finished designs is at: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamedesigner/85262/scott

Boardgamegeek members can contact me directly via “geekmail” (private message).

I don’t have a social media presence for my game designs, since up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t need one. So, I will just point you to Side Room Games:

www.sideroomgames.com

@sideroomgames

https://www.facebook.com/sideroomgames/

 

 

 

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