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Mike Swindall on Smash Monster Rampage!
Interview with game designer, Mike Swindall, on his games Smash Monster Rampage! and Smash Monster Rampage! Mega Monster Box coming later this year from 5th Street Games.
Mike, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what got you into tabletop gaming?
Mike: I’m of that generation that used to play family board games at Christmas. In our house it was rare for a board game to be played at any other time of the year, but notable exceptions were ‘Buccaneer’, ‘Hotel’ and the daddy of them all - ‘Escape from Colditz’. This is in the early seventies, I would have been about twelve, but I’ll never forget the thrill of playing those games at that age.
What are some of your favorite games to play?
Mike: Old school ‘Games Workshop’ board games are amazing. Talisman, Dungeonquest, Chainsaw Warrior and Judge Dredd have all been played to destruction over the years.
More recently, ‘Days Of Wonder’ make great games, I love Small World and Pirate’s Cove, they not only play well but look good too, that’s important I think.
What in your opinion makes a fun game?
Mike: Wow. That’s a tough one. Everyone’s going to have a different answer. For me, an appealing theme is important. It should be easy to learn and exciting to play. Also, it should have 3D buildings, tanks, helicopters and a giant monster!
Your claim to fame in the hobby is Smash Monster Rampage. Could you tell our readers what kind of gameSmash Monster Rampage is and give us an overview of how you play it?
Mike: SMR is essentially a light hearted fantasy battle game for all ages.
The board represents a detailed modern cityscape complete with three dimensional high-rise buildings. A huge monster is attacking the city and destroying everything in its path. Players move military units around the board, defending buildings, shooting at the creature and rescuing survivors.
Monster actions are dictated by the ‘Monster Die,’ rolled at the end of each turn it randomly determines how the monster moves or attacks.
Players draw ‘Monster Hit’ cards after successfully firing at the beast, these cards outline specific conditions or consequences that must be fulfilled before the card is won.
When the monster dies, then player with the most ‘Monster Hit’ cards wins, the monster wins if it flattens the city before being defeated.
What is the story behind the creation of Smash Monster Rampage?
Mike: I started working on SMR about five years ago, back in 2009. At the time I’d been looking for a simple fun game where a big monster trashes a city, to my surprise there were only a few board games with this theme and all were way too complex for my taste. I had some spare time on my hands back then so thought I’d try and make one myself. Years ago I studied graphic design at college and then went on to work for many years in the animation industry so I’m a competent artist and knew I could at least make the game look reasonably appealing and then promote it online with a short animated trailer on YouTube.
Why did you decide to make it a print and play?
Mike: My discovery of Print and Play (on bgg) was absolutely essential, without it I would never have considered creating the game. Let’s not forget - the internet is amazing (mostly), it’s easy to share ideas with the rest of the world now.
It was always going to be P+P, in fact that was part of the challenge, creating a sort of flat pack game that would be assembled by the players, the crafting aspect was as appealing to me as the game design itself.
I was attracted to producing the best game I could, simply as a hobby, and then distributing it for free, I had no intention of ever making money from it.
When you were designing the original Smash Monster, what factors went into deciding the art of the monster? Why did you decide to make him/her more cartoonish, than say realistic, etc...?
Mike: The game was always going to be light-hearted and fun so a simple cartoony look seemed appropriate. Also, as a print and play, I didn’t want the shape of the creature to be too complex to cut-out, that’s why the arms are set back within the silhouette of the body. Granted, the spines on his back are a bit fiddly - but all straight cuts.
Then sometime later you offered Crush (in Crush Monster Rampage!) a second monster. Could you explain what Crush added to the gameplay and why you added him?
Mike: I was amazed at how well SMR was received; many good reviews and lots of positive feedback, I was encouraged to think about a new monster. Once the game is assembled and all the buildings are standing in position on the board it’s not difficult to imagine a whole parade of different critters attacking the city. However a new monster couldn't just do exactly what Smash did, it had to be sufficiently different, not just for players, but also to sustain my interest during the time and effort it would take to develop it.
Inspiration came from stop-motion king Ray Harryhausen, his giant radioactive octopus in ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ was a perfect foe. The idea of a tentacle wrapping around a building and pulling it to the ground was not only irresistible, but also relatively simple to implement as a P+P element.
I did struggle for a while with how the tentacles would emanate from the creature and snake across the board but eventually hit on the idea of them tunneling under the ground and popping up at different locations. This not only made the threat more widespread than in the original game, but also meant that the tentacles would leave holes as they retreated, adding a permanent terrain change to the board.
After about eight months of work I finally released the ‘Crush’ expansion in 2012. I was very pleased with the final game, it plays well and looks ok, but most importantly it feels like a new game and not a copy of SMR.
Why was it important that you made Crush feel different than Smash? Was this also something you factored in when designing the new monsters (making them feel different)?
Mike: It would have been very easy, and a little bit cynical to simply replace Smash with a monster that looked totally new but played exactly the same as the original.
The challenge with Crush was to come up with unique actions and abilities that could be logically implemented alongside the core mechanics of the game. The same goes for all the monsters, Phil and I both felt strongly that each monster had to present a new challenge of some kind.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the original Smash Monster Rampage?
Mike: A couple of things come to mind. Testing was a problem, I only have a limited number of family/friends who were willing to help out with the process and I didn’t want to impose a totally untested game on them. Consequently, I was forced to play the game a lot with myself at various stages of testing, a slightly sad picture I know but actually very effective for a game like this.
The authentic testing sessions were tolerated by my son and a group of his friends who fortunately became more and more enthusiastic about the game every time they played. Thanks guys.
The other issue, which I hadn’t anticipated, was in writing the rules. I got to a point where I had all the gameplay figured out and written down as rough notes. Although the game is relatively simple, converting that into coherent and understandable instructions was a challenge and I took a significant amount of time adding diagrams and images to the rules to make them as clear as possible.
What was your favorite part of designing it?
Mike: I put a lot of work and time into making the playing board look as good as I could. Stripped down it’s just a grid with predefined spaces where the buildings stand, that’s all you really need, but for me it was an opportunity to demonstrate the relative scale of the environment in comparison to the Monster. This meant adding tons of detail to the board – lots of little cars, small buildings, trees, gardens and parks together with a slice of railway line all help to reinforce just how massive and threatening the Smash Monster is. I think it worked out OK and certainly helps to give SMR the epic theme I was going for.
Although most of my art from the original p+p has been updated the playing board will be used almost exactly as it was, in fact, at Phil’s request I created a total of FOUR different playing boards from the original artwork, each with a totally unique building layout.
What was the best advice you received from a playtester, when you were still play testing Smash Monster Rampage?
Mike: The group was very enthusiastic and never short of suggestions, several of the ‘Monster Hit’ cards were based on their ideas. The randomised starting space came from them, too.
So, let’s fast forward to 2013 – and you, through 5th Street Games, launch a Kickstarter. Not only did it offer Smash and Crush –but 15 more monsters. What are your top 3 new monsters, what do they add to the game and what do you love about them?
Mike: Smash and Crush will always be my top two. All the other monsters are going to be awesome too, each with their own individual moves and unique abilities. It’s difficult to choose one above the others but ‘Space Monster,’ which features a flying saucer invasion, introduces the idea of ‘shields.’The shields become stronger when the smaller drone ships scan buildings and have to be disabled before the mothership can be damaged. ‘Goo Monster,’ the blob, comes in three different sizes – one square, four squares and the mega-Goo, nine squares. It gets bigger as it digests enemy units. The ‘Plant Monster’ throws out spores which grow through different stages as you play. Destroy the seedling quickly before it too grows to full size and gains the ability to move about. You could potentially be up against a total of seven fully developed giant carnivorous plants!Expansion Monsters: Crush, Crystal, Dragon, MagicExpansion Monsters: Goo, Piranha Tornado, Cosmic, ClawExpansion Monsters: Mecha, Paul Bunyan, Plant, RabbitExpansion Monsters: Snowman, Space Invaders, Spider, Swarm
What would you say the hardest monster to defeat is?
Mike: Probably the Myth Monster, it doesn’t look that tough, but has some arcane abilities that’ll keep you on your toes…
What is the easiest?
Mike: None of them are easy, where’s the fun in that?!
What is your favorite role in the game and why?
Mike: They’re all good and one of the many new additions implemented by 5th Street Games, if pushed I’d have to say the Helicopter Commander or Logistics Officer but it depends which monster you’re up against.
What do the survivor cards do in the game, and what do they add to the gameplay?
Mike: In the original p+p game, the survivor cards were there to stall the battle and add a kind of mini-mission to the gameplay.
5th Street Games have cleverly promoted the survivors to a more pivotal role. Now, at the start of the game a number of ‘Survivor Tokens’ are randomly placed around the city, these survivors must be rescued before they are squashed, incinerated, vaporised, eaten, crushed or zapped. Each time a survivor is lost the tracker advances one space. Lose too many survivors and the monster wins.
If players opt to use the Survivor Cards, then every time a survivor is rescued a card is drawn, each of the ten cards feature a different character and an associated special ability bonus.
As well as adding a new layer of fun, this will give the player an added incentive to rescue as many survivors as possible.
Do you have a favorite survivor card?
Mike: Again, it depends which Monster you’re fighting but on balance I’d go for the Mechanic, a bonus unit is always gonna be useful.
What was your favorite part of designing the new monsters?
Mike: It was great to collaborate with Phil Kilcrease (of 5th Street Games). Together we came up with an agreed list of about twenty monsters.
I loosely outlined the gameplay for (I think) four of those before Phil and his team developed the rest and play-tested them all.
Except for Smash and Crush, the design of the monsters was down to Phil and his team of artists, as they came up with final versions the artwork was sent to me as reference for designing the large slot together figures of each monster used in the game(s).
Using SketchUp, I built virtual models of each concept and sent them to Phil for his comments. Once the construction of all the models had been agreed, I went back and produced the final artwork for each monster.
What was the biggest challenged you faced?
Mike: I’m sure Phil would agree that initially we were a little wary of one another. I live in Cornwall in the UK while Phil is nearly 5,000 miles away in Salt Lake City. We’ve never met and our only contact is via email. Even though we did quickly settle into a friendly and reasonably efficient partnership it would have been much easier had we lived next door to each other.
The Kickstarter added some new units, do you have a favorite one?
Mike: That’s right. Alongside the Helicopters and Tanks we’ve introduce five new units; Rocket Truck, Fire Truck, Infantry, Artillery and Jet. Just like the Survivor Cards, Role Cards, and new Weapons this is an optional element that can be added to the primary gameplay if players choose.
The new Units each have individual movement, attack and ability attributes. For example, the Fire Truck moves very quickly, six spaces per turn, but cannot make an attack. It’s main role is to extinguish fires and rescue survivors.
What’s the story behind getting hooked up with 5th Street Games?
Mike: Soon after I’d published the ‘Crush’ expansion I had an email from a games company asking me if I’d be interested in letting them publish SMR. A constructive trans-Atlantic Skype call followed and we provisionally agreed to go ahead once a couple of pricing issues had been resolved.
A couple of months later (around May 2013) I was contacted by Phil Kilcrease of 5th Street Games. He also wanted to know if I was interested in publishing the game.
Even via email I was immediately struck by Phil’s infectious enthusiasm for ‘Smash’ and ‘Crush’, after a short deliberation I politely retreated from the first company and signed up with 5th Street Games.
What is/was your favorite part about working with 5th Street Games?
Mike: It’s been fascinating to be a part of the whole process; from those tentative first emails to brainstorming new monsters and game concepts, launching the Kickstarter, seeing contributions from other artists, resolving monster standee designs…
As I write, I’m currently figuring out how to fit all the punch-out game components onto as few sheets of cardstock as possible. It’s not quite over yet!
Were any of the new monsters ones that you knew right away you wanted to make? Something that came to mind instantly when you started to discuss designing new monsters?
Mike: Yes, there were a few. A flying saucer invasion was top of my list but we also quickly agreed on a plant monster, a blob, a spider and something with wings that could fly.
What was the process Phil and you used to come up with the new monsters?
Mike: There wasn’t really a process, we came up with a list of possibilities and then discussed the potential of each monster, how it could move or react to a hit and so on. Phil was very good at that, he came up with way more than I did.
Could you have ever imagined that your print and play on Board Game Geek would not only be picked up for publication, but would spawn so many expansions (be it monsters, dice, boards, units, etc)?
Mike: No, my only ambition for the game was that it be played and enjoyed by as many people as possible.
It’s great that 5th Street Games have so much faith in the game, I can’t wait to see it ‘in a box.’
Smash is a co-op game, what are some of your favorite co-op games?
Mike: I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever played a co-op board game, I can’t think of one (I like to play to WIN)…it’s really down to Phil that SMR will be published as a co-op game. Initially I was resistant to that but came round to the idea, after all, although my original game is player vs player they are also BOTH against the monster as well, so in some ways p+p ‘Smash’ is a co-op game too.
Also, making the game fully co-op allowed us to incorporate some exciting new concepts such as ‘roles’ and the new survivor characters, ideas that now enhance the playing experience but wouldn’t work as part of the original game.
Do you have a favorite (Kijau) Giant Monster movie?
Mike: It’s not hard to guess the obvious influence evident in ‘Smash,’ but my other favourite giant monster movies are more western in origin. I’ve already mentioned ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ but alongside that I’d have to list another couple of Harryhausen offerings ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms’ and ‘20 Million Miles To Earth’, then B-movie classics like ‘Them!’ or ‘The Blob’ and of course ‘King Kong.’
Speaking of King Kong, do you think we will ever see a giant ape?
Mike: Maybe. We actually rejected the idea quite early on, thinking that it wouldn’t be as much fun to fight as the other monsters we’d come up with, that was before Phil and I had locked down exactly what form the published version would take. Since then we’ve become much better at developing how each monster will play within the modified version of the game - making full use of the new stuff like special weapons, additional units or new event cards.
After all, if a giant rabbit and a clumsy lumberjack can make it into the box then pretty much anything’s possible!
What is the biggest change the game saw from its first few prototypes compared to the finished product?
Mike: No major changes actually. The only thing I recall is that the Monster had two dice for a while, one for action and movement (pretty much as it is in the final game), but another to determine the monster’s reaction to a ‘hit.’ The second dice had sides reading something like Rage, Fire Breath, Dazed, 360 Spin and Move Again. Most of those actions eventually ended up on ‘Monster Hit’ cards.
What are you looking forward to the most about getting your finished copy of the game?
Mike: Well, for one thing it’ll mean I don’t have to work on it anymore!
Getting this game published has taken a lot more time and effort than I’d anticipated, although I know I’m going to be very pleased with the final product it will be a relief not to think about it for a while.
When you look at Smash Monster Rampage – what makes you the most proud about it as its designer?
Mike: I really like that the game works on two levels.
I think it appeals to casual players as a quick, fun easy to learn action game, but also to more serious gamers as a humorous, tactical war game with elements of strategy.
Also, it looks awesome!
Do you have any plans for new monsters, if SMR and Smash Monster Rampage! Mega Monster Box is a success for 5th Street Games?
Mike: Phil and I haven’t discussed new monsters recently, I think we’re both too busy dealing with the current ones. However, there were a few that we came up with that didn’t make it into the box for various reasons, most notably the Squirm Monster, a giant snake/centipede made of several segments that divides into separate shorter versions of itself after every ‘hit’, it was going to use hypnosis and spit acid.
Do you have any tips for how to teach Smash Monster Rampage to new players?
Mike: One of my aims when developing SMR was to keep the game simple. I wanted it to be fun and exciting to play but quick and easy to learn. The key concept is ‘kill the monster before it destroys the city.’ A new player only needs to know the basics – Monster Movement, Unit Movement and Attack - before starting to play. Additional rules, actions and events are explained on ‘Monster Hit’ cards during play.
In 12 words or less could you finish this sentence: Smash Monster Rampage is __________.
Mike:...going to be your favourite board game of all time!
Are you designing any other board games outside of the Smash Monster Rampage Universe?
Mike: Yes, I do have a couple of games simmering away at the moment, but, because of SMR I’ve been neglecting them recently.
One is a card game rather than a board game, it’s sort of a memory game with an extra-terrestrial twist. It’s been tested a few times and looks promising, that’ll probably be a P+P at some point.
The other is a more traditional board game and showcases Cornwall, the county where I live in the UK. The premise of the game is universal though, so I’ve designed the game in such a way that it could easily be adapted to prominently feature a chosen location anywhere in the world. Honestly, it’s much better than it sounds!
As we wrap this up, is there anything you would like to add?
Mike: Together with ‘5th Street Games’ we have made every effort to ensure that SMR is as good as it could possibly be, hope you all enjoy the game. All the best, Mike.
Our thanks to Mike Swindall, for taking time out and doing this interview.
What's that you say? Inquiring meeples want to know more?You may want to check out these links:
• Smash Monster Rampage webpage
• 5th Street Games' official website
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Welcome to The Inquisitive Meeple - A blog that is dedicated to interviewing board game designers. Est. 2014
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