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Interview with David Ausloos

Jaime "Jason Rider" Polo
S/C de Tenerife
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For his upcoming game Panic Station we wanted to get in contact with him and chat a little about board games and his newcome projects. He really took a lot of time to answer all our questions and we want to thank him for this.

If you want to read all that he said continue reading.

How do you start at the boardgames?

My first memories of boardgames are actually design-related.
I remember making my own boardgames as a kid. Basically simple roll & move affairs, but notheless I think my first passion was not so much play games but to design them.
Create little worlds in boxes. That is still the reason why I design games today: I want to create a small universe inside a box.
I find it fascinating that you can create a whole universe with characters and situations just with the help of some pieces of cardboard
and a few wooden pawns.

Which was your first game that you get as a gift or you bought?

I think it was a game by ravensburger: "Off to the Tower".
It was a basic roll & move game, but it has some subtle backstabbing,
and a neat little tower that could capture the playing pawns of the players.
It was a typical Sunday morning ritual: pancakes and afterwards a session of this children's classic.
It was the family-moment, all sitting at the table, that evoked a warmth that still inspires me to play game.
For me boardgaming is not all about the game itself but more than anything else about the social interaction.
4 people sitting at the table having a good time, laughing,chatting just the whole atmosphere of loose conversation.

How much time do you use in a week for boardgames?

When I am working on a project it can get pretty extreme.
During such a development period I have the design in my head constantly.
That often results in my brain pushing me to wake up in the middle of the night and going downstairs to write down some ideas
on paper the size of a modest Russian novel. When I'm in de middle of development it could be easily a couple of hours a day.
Yes, the life of a designer is hard work. But there are luckily also moments of pure bliss.

How much time do you spend to finish a game (idea, test...)?

That depends greatly on the complexity of the game.
Actually, the first workable prototype of Panic Station was a very smooth process and only took me 2-3 weeks.
That is a rare situation, because mostly it takes a few months to get an
idea from notes to a first rough proto.
But Panic Station was a fascinating experience: that first session completely baffled me because immediately it was clear for all players present the core of the game worked and generated a pretty intense experience. 10 minutes into the game and everybody was already in full-paranoia mode.
Everyone was accusing everyone and there was nervous laughter and an almost electrical tension in the room.
At that point I knew I had something worth to further develop.

What can you tell us abour your first games?

If you mean my first game design, that was Dark Darker Darker.
It was the game that made me learn how to design games.
I made all the rookie mistakes designing the first version of the game.
Over the course of years I re-designed it about 6 times completely. It was not so much designing one game, but a tool to experiment with elements.
Actually, I have just finished the new version of the game that is a complete reworked version of the older edition.
I put a lot of what I learned while designing recent games into it.
I am in the midst of making arrangements with 2 publishers to bring it to the market.
They are targeting an Essen 2012 release which gives us roughly a year to get it ready.

How did you get the idea to make the game Panic Station?

It was after watching John Carpenters cult classic "The Thing".
That movie is 30 years old but it hasn't aged a thing, simply because the basic story of a group of people trapped in an isolated location is
such an intense premise.
In the movie an alien lifeform takes over the team one by one. When the story progresses nobody trusts nobody and everyone suspects everyone to
be alien.
The claustrophobic paranoia is so intense that I was beginning to think about how to translate such paranoia to a boardgame system.
That was the start of the development of a hidden information system that was driven by an exponential traitor mechanic were the game started
with 1 traitor who would attempt to infect the rest of the players.

Bascially each player controls a soldier with a flamethrower who's mission it is to locate the alien parasite hive inside the infested station and an android who's job it is to defend the team against parasites that are all over the station.
During the first turns of the game one player will get infected and from
then on he will do anything to infect the rest.
The key mechanic of the game is a blind trade were players who are sharing the same location must trade an item. This could be an innocent
item but when a player is infected he would also play an infection card.
The neat thing is that this card can only be stopped by the receiving player by trading a gascan, and these are needed to complete the mission
to destroy the hive.
So players need to deduct who can be trusted and who might be infected through the tools present in the station, amongst other a heatscanner that scans the whole station in search of infected players.
10 minutes into the game the paranoia should be very heavy. It is not uncommon that a game during the final turns has players trusting nobody
at the table.
You realy need to be in control of your own paranoia and not get
emotionally carried away. This game is only partly about what happens on the board. More than anything it is about the interactions of the players, the verbal accusations, the misleading converstions and the paranoia and thoughts inside the heads of the players. In that sense I think the game is not unlike any other game currently on the market.
It combines a tactical dungeoncrawler with the psychological warfare of
a game like Battlestar Galactica, but compressed in a game that only takes 30-40 minutes to play.

Also, you have design Get Nuts, what can you tell us about that game?

It was not my idea. The game came from Tom Luyckx, a befriended designer.
I worked with him on the last crucial stages of development. Especially
the card interactions/design and added a key mechanic.
It's a filler, so don't expect a heavy game. It is basically a take-that
style cardgame in which you try to move a squirrel along a row of trees that you build on the table to a stack of nuts, but all other players will do anything to sabotage your plans by destroying your trees. The key thing of the game is that you have to find a good balance between your own progression, moving you squirrel along the path of trees to safety but also hinder the competition with the tools you have at hand.
It's a lot of fun if you don't take it too seriously, especially if you
like backstabbing

How did you get in contact with White Goblin Games?

Actually, they approached me when I posted the cover I had illustrated for Panic Station.
They liked it so much that they were curious about the game behind it.

Do you play your own games?

Sure. I need to in order to get them developed
By the time I finish a game I have played it at least 80 times. So afterwards I am quite happy to play other games.
Actually, that is one of my personal checks if a design is good enough:
if I still enjoy playing it after having developed it for months and months I know it is special.

Do you have any new expansion for your games?

I have some ideas for a Panic Station expansion, but I think it is best
to wait how the general public will react to the game.
At Essen pre-orders will already receive a mini-expansion with some new itemcards for the game. Amongst others a very cool antidote injection that creates a very dramatic moment in the game.

What can you tell us about your 2 new games: "Dark Darker Darkest" and "Rogue Agent"?

Dark Darker Darker is basically a survival horrorgame.
It's a full-co-op supporting 2-5 players. The co-operative aspect of the
game is in every detail of the game.
Players need to form team in order to survive the challenges thrown at them from the game system.
If a player plays solo he will not survive the game.
It has some interesting mechanics that allow players to break the typical downtime problems of tactical combat games.
In Dark Darker Darkest players can have a lot of freedom when they will
perform actions.
It makes for a very dynamic experience.
The premise is that you are an urban survivor part of a group who just
entered the house of Doctor Mortimer who has the antidote in his possession to stop the apocalypse that is truning the world into an army
of undead creatures.
The house forms a living organism with a security camera system that tracks the movement of the players and triggers all sort of challenges.
A fire will break out that could potentially destroy the house and if that isn't bad enough hordes of creatures will enter appear in the house
at unexpected moments, doing everything to wipe out the team.
It is a very intense game, pretty hardcore. It forces players to carefully consider what they will do with the limited actions and tools
they have at hand.
The game uses time pressure mechanics that push players towards a climatic finale were they have to defeat an endboss in an epic confrontation.
It will be a deluxe production with highly detailed modular board tiles, engraved icon-driven dice and lots of cool miniatures.

Rogue Agent is another beast altogether.
It is a cyberpubnk adventure game were you play an agent part of the "Agency" who's mission it is to keep control over the crime rate of Rain
The game feels like a living city with crimelords moving around, assassins awaiting you at every corner=E2=80=A6it uses mechanics to create an ever-changing dynamic board and not the static cities depicted
in many boardgames.
There is a also a traitor-mechanic in the game: as you wander around the city and confront villains and solve situations like bombs that threaten
to go off and destroy neighbourhoods and deliver information to key points you will investigate not only your own identity but also that of
other players. One or more players at the table may or may not be renegade Androids. In the endgame these players will have a different victory condition and will attempt to destroy the city or possibly wipe out the human team. Rogue Agent is definitely my most euro-ish design. It has elements of pick up & deliver, dice management (the game uses a very additive icon-driven upgrade system)worker placement (as players place helpers in locations to protect them)and risk management. But unlike many euros it has a lot of unpredictable moments were players need to adapt to a situation and sometimes take a risk in order to gain power over the city. It doesn=E2=80=99t take a lot of guessing to see that my main inspiration of the game was again a movie: Blade Runner.

When will they be published?

Rogue Agent is currently under evaluation by a publisher.
So it is hard to say at this point. I hope soon.
Dark Darker Darker like I targeting is an Essen 2012 release.

Will be published in Spanish any of your games?

There is definitely some interest from other countries, so it might well
happen that licenses will be sold to Spain. I think at this point Panic Station has the biggest chance of a Spanish version.

If you could design a game in the history of games... which one would
be that one?

If you mean a design that already exist I would love to have designed Avalon Hill's "Nexus Ops", still to this day the most elegant and fast-playing conquest game around.
It is such an elegant smooth design that it is easy to forget how smartly designed it actually is.

Which other desinger do you admire?

There are a number of designers that I admire, but most of all I admire
game designs.
However, a few that stand out for me by delivering a constant flow of very well designed and interesting games are Martin Wallace and Corey.
Wallace because his systems are so perfectly formed that they succeed in
both perfectly simulating a theme he tries to convey and also are incredibly smart from a mathematical standpoint. His designs combine theme with well designed systems in such a seamingless way that it feels
very natural. Never do you feel the mechanics are in the way of the theme. Coreys designs are also fantastic systems to render narrative situations.
I love how Battlestar Galatica despite its basic mechanics creates these
epic stories.
I also think his Middle Earth Quest is a breathtaking design with a lot
of innovative ideas, sadly neglected by many. It deserved to be a bigger
success than it turned out to be.

Can you tell us your top 5 games?

Hmmm.that is hard.
It changes from time to time. Some games I was in love with fade rapidly over the course of more plays, while other games seem to grow on me and
become more interesting with each play. At the moment I am totally =
charmed by:

King of Tokyo: a fantastic light game by Richard Garfield of Magic-fame that combines catchy dice mechanics with a great risk-taking let's bash the leader-system.
It is such fun. I have yet to play with a group that didn't like
Planet Steam: a brilliantly designed economic/space empire building game.
It must be played with 4 to be optimal, but it has so many good ideas and I just love how all the mechanics from this string of cutthroat decisions.
Moongha Invaders: a highly thematic Martin Wallace game that sadly enough was only available in a very limited printrun. More people should
be able to discover the intense gameplay of this gem. And the theme of mad scientists creating mutated monsters that battle it out in the major cities of the world is so much fun.
Earth Reborn: because I don't know any game that offers so much freedom to players.
The rules are a bit overwhelming, but it is definitely worth the investement.
Fury of Dracula (Games workshop edition): because it is a charming old classic that has not lost its spellbinding qualities over the years. I also have a weak spot for hidden information mechanics, thought they rarely work as good as in this classic.

What was the last game that you played and you get addicted?

King of Tokyo is definitly an addiction. Given the fact it plays in 20 minutes it happens regulary that we play 3-4 games in a row.

Any future proyect?

I have more projects/ideas than time, sadly enough.
One idea I definitely want to further develop is a supernatural-themed deduction game called "Nightwatch". I also have notes for a space trading game.
But first I need to start development on Stained Steel. That game is high priority for me.

Any advise for the new designers?

The best advice I can give to new designers is be patient. It take a lot
of time and especially playtesting to get a game to a satisfying level.
Test your games with as many groups as possible and not only with your
regular game group.
You will get a lot of vital feedback from different people and also different perspectives on your game that triggers new ideas.
When you design a euro, play it also with thematic gamers. When you designed a thematic American-style game, play it also with eurogamers. They might be not as enthousiastic about the style, but they will offer
you very interesting comments and criticism.
You don't learn from people telling you how good the game is. Only from criticism.
Also, think long and hard about what goals you have for the design: what
do you want to trigger with the players. Only when you set your goals you can start designing.
You need a framework to work in and your goals form the basis of a solid
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