Welcome back, readers! Today I have the pleasure of sharing an interview I conducted with none other than Richard Breese, designer of Reef Encounter and the Key-series of games (among others). He is commonly associated with being the first to design a game using Worker Placement as a mechanic, so without Richard there might never have been games such as Agricola to hit the market. Maybe Uwe Rosenberg would be bagging groceries instead of forcing us to feed our workers and heat our homes in games!
In my few interactions with him so far, I’ve found Richard to be a fantastic guy. I’m genuinely honored that he agreed to answer a few questions, and I wanted to share these with all of you in celebration of Worker Placement month. Also, as an added bonus, I’m giving away a few copies of the Keymelequin promo for Keyflower! You can enter for that down at the bottom of this post and don’t worry…this won’t be the last giveaway happening this month!
- Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, Richard! Let’s start off by having you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in designing board games.
Thank you for the invitation and for your interest in my games. I currently live part time in Stratford upon Avon, famous for being the birthplace of William Shakespeare, and part time in London. I trained as an accountant and as well as designing board games I am Finance Director for a commercial property development company. I have three sons who live nearby. I’ve always enjoyed playing games. I was lucky that my parents had a few when I was young, including, Chess, Chinese Chequers, Cluedo, Draughts, Mah Jong, Monopoly, Risk, Wild Life (Peter Ryhiner ), etc. and I’m sure that they sparked my initial interest in games and designing. From the age of about 10, I then tried to develop my own games. One was a wild life game that I mention on the box notes of Inhabit the Earth (2015). Then later, after I’d discovered D&D, I created a game that was based on the movement of the different character classes. That got simplified into an abstract game which became my first published game Chamelequin (1989).
- One of your earliest designs was Keywood, the first entry into what would become the Key series of games. Tell us a little about that game, how it came to be, and how that inspired a continued series of games in that same Key-verse.
Keywood (1995) came about as an entry into a design competition run by Sumo, one of the first board game magazines, and became the winning entry. I created 200 hand-made copies, which amazingly have now sold for as much as $1,200 on Ebay! I first discovered ‘German’ (now known as ‘Euro’) games when in 1991 I visited Spiel for the first time in order to promote Chamelequin. I loved that these German games were accessible, positive, had fun themes, were family friendly and were more skill than luck based. I resolved to try to create a similar game and the design competition which acted as an incentive came at the right moment. I needed a name for my new game, which was based on a land with a benevolent ruler. At the 1991 Spiel I had chance to meet and play a game with American gamer Keywood Cheves and he was he personification of the character I had envisaged as ruling the land. I used his name and happily when he found out he was quite chuffed and actually bought six copies! A good investment! The land the game was set in became the Keydom (1998) – the second game in the ‘Key’ series. I was fortunate that the ‘Key’ part of the name was convenient and useful prefix.
- Keydom was the next title and is widely viewed as the game that started the Worker Placement mechanic for games. How did the idea for that mechanic come about? What struggles did it present in the design process?
Klaus Teuber’s seminal game Settlers of Catan, the Euro game that transformed the world of gaming, particularly in the US, was published in 1995. I enjoyed Settlers, but was not fond of the luck factors inherent in the dice rolling. I wanted to achieve the same effect but without the dice, just by direct placement of the workers on the board. This became the central mechanic in Keydom, which as you mentioned, is now recognised as the first worker placement game.
To quote Stewart Woods in his impressive chronicle of the development of Eurogames entitled ‘Eurogames’ (2012): ‘… worker placement first appeared … in Richard Breese’s Keydom. In Keydom, players allocate a number of worker tokens to areas of the board that provide a variety of resources and actions. While any player may place as many tokens as they wish on most of these spaces, hidden values on the underside of the tokens are subsequently used to determine who receives benefit from the space.’ Woods goes on to note that ‘Breese employed the worker placement mechanic in a purer form in his later game Keythedral (2002)’.
Keydom was re-issued by Hans im Glück (HiG) as Morgenland and Rio Grande as Aladdin’s Dragons and befitted greatly from the input of Bernd Brunoffer and his team at HiG. They refined the game end conditions, but the worker placement mechanic remained the same in principle.
- For someone who has never played a game in the Key series, what would they be able to expect to find in terms of common traits among the games in that series?
The traits are those that I enjoy in games. In particular player interaction is indirect, i.e. through the game mechanism, not of ‘take that’ nature directly between players. Actions are constructive, generating a positive feeling, not negative, conflict driven or destructive. The aim is to damage another player by making a good move for yourself. There will be a small amount of luck only. Players will be allowed do things, as I try not to restrict options. There is a family friendly medieval theme (with the exception of the present day Key to the City – London (2016)).
- How has the Worker Placement mechanic evolved in your own designs since that first implementation? Which of your games would you say is the most unique in regards to using Worker Placement?
I try to introduce something new in each of my new games. In Keydom the number value of the worker placed was important. In Keythedral there is an adjacency restriction whereby workers can only work in fields adjacent to their cottage. In Keyflower the twist is the requirement to match the colour of workers already played. In Keyper the joining and laying down opportunities are introduced. I think the Worker Placement mechanisms in both Keyflower and Keyper are used in unique ways. In particular I like the way that in Keyper, running out of keyples can be beneficial in giving you lucrative lay down opportunities.
- Keyflower is a title in the BGG Top 50 and is widely considered to be the best game in the Key series. I personally love and enjoy that bidding mechanic in the game and the scarceness of the green keyples (at least at the start of the game!). Did the success of this game surprise you? What is it about this game that you feel makes it unique from other games, both in the Worker Placement genre and in the Key series of games?
From the play testing with Sebastian Bleasdale I felt confident that Keyflower had the possibilities of being well received. I think the introduction of the expansions, the Merchants expansion in particular, make the game very engaging. Keythedral also reached the BGG top 100 when it was released. I think all of the Key games are unique in their own ways. With Keyflower I think it is the bidding with the same coloured keyples (workers/meeples) mechanism which makes the game shine. Also there are lots of possible actions and the tile mix means each game will be different with its own set of challenges. The game is positive as players are building their village and creating opportunities and combinations. Also players are not locked out of actions as they can use other player’s tiles, but at the cost of sacrificing one or more of their keyples.
- Let’s shift gears for a moment. Here at Cardboard Clash, I focus a lot on how games play with 2-players. My understanding is that all of your game designs are playtested extensively at that player count, which is something I really appreciate as a gamer who often plays against my spouse. What are some of the games you’ve designed that you feel play best at 2?
Yes, that’s right. I enjoy two player games with the shorter down time and the fact that you are pitted against an individual, without other players interfering. Keyflower would be at the top of my list, particularly with the Merchants expansion. I also enjoy Keyper. It plays differently as there is often not a lot of joining with two players and the game becomes a lot more tactical. Reef Encounter (2004) is also a favourite and plays well with two.
- Keyper recently released and has been getting a lot of high praise. I’ve heard several mention this is the best Key game since Keyflower, and talk about the unique board-folding mechanic in there and how it integrates well into the game. Where did the folding mechanism come from and what challenges did you encounter in designing a game to use that?
I initially encountered the folding board being promoted as an advertising aide at a trade show. I was convinced there was a game there, but it took about three years of to think of a combination of mechanics – worker placement, joining and laying down keyples – that I was happy with. I wanted everything to be positive, and I particularly like the mechanic that allows players to benefit from playing their keyples quickly and gaining extra turns. So when you join, not only do you get extra resources or actions, you also gain an extra turn later in the season (or reduce those of your opponents).
I very much wanted to minimise the AP (analysis paralysis) that the board permutations could give rise to and gave a lot of thought to this issue. That is why in the game you only manipulate the board three times, at the end of spring, summer and autumn and also, on each occasion, the choice is restricted to only four different alternatives. In addition players manipulate the boards simultaneously, which minimises the down time. All of the possible permutations are given in the rule book.
- My understanding is that the next game in the series is Key Flow, which is a card-based game. What can you tell us about this game and what makes it unique from the ones that have come before it?
Key Flow is a joint design with Sebastian Bleasdale and Ian Vincent. The idea for the game was conceived by one of my long standing play testers Ian, who wanted to design a version of Keyflower that he could be Sebastian and me at! Originally the game had square cards similar to the Settlers card game. Then Sebastian proposed that we adopt the two row village layout, with keyple cards activating building cards in the top row. The card drafting mechanism is similar to Seven Wonders. But the keyple card activation is very different, with a different colour of keyple card used in each season. The game has been very well received in demonstrations.
After the Gathering gaming convention this year American game designer Ralph H Anderson wrote on Facebook ‘I got to play this [Key Flow] brilliant game both at last year’s and this year’s Gathering of Friends (with subsequent improvements over the interim). I concur with Scott Alden [Founder of BGG] and will add it is a fast and elegant implementation from the board game to the card game. I always enjoy sitting down to a game with Richard Breese and particularly when it is one of his own.’ Scott added: ‘So awesome! And just to clarify I still love Keyflower! But I can see myself playing this [Key Flow] one a lot more.
- I assume that you’ve got another project or two in the pipeline after Key Flow. Is there anything you can tell us about what might be coming in 2019 or 2020 from you?
Due to popular demand I’m planning a re-issue of Key Market at the end of 2018/early 2019.
I‘m currently working on a Keyper expansion, which is likely to take a modular approach. There are new country tiles – including some rather extreme tiles known as the Leader and the Partner`, a new folding country board, fish meeples and sea creature tiles and a new ‘Fresh Fish’ board. There is also a season board which introduces the rather mind blowing concept of non-coterminous player seasons.
My games generally take at least a couple of years from conception to be ready for publication and the 2020 game is also taking shape in the background.
- Thank you so much for all of your time, Richard! If someone wanted to learn more about you, find you online, or order some of your games where could they go?
My pleasure and good questions. One day I will create a website, but life is too busy and at the moment and I prefer to spend my time designing the games. The best place to visit is my profile on Boardgamegeek, which links to all my published games. I announce my new games on BGG and on Facebook first, where I am happy to be befriended by interested gamers. The recent R&D games are generally available and are distributed by Game Salute in the US and by Huch elsewhere.
Thanks again for your interest and questions.