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Ben Pierro Discusses Foodtown Throwdown

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The Inquisitive Meeple
Ben Pierro Discusses Foodtown Throwdown

Interview with designer, Ben Pierro, about his game, Foodtown Throwdown, which is currently on Kickstarter. For 2-4 players, in Foodtown Throwdown "players compete to build the best food truck business in town by adding recipes to their menu with whatever crazy ingredients they can find. You will also need to establish your territory and publicize your truck while dealing with sabotage attempts from your competitors."

Ben, could you share a little with us about yourself and what got you into tabletop gaming?

Ben: I really got into tabletop gaming in college. I had played a lot of Magic the Gathering in high school and when I went to art school I met some friends who invited me to play Dungeons and Dragons for the first time. From there board games became a central part of my social life. Since college I've been working in graphic design and media, but I've always kept a few ideas for my own board and card games burning in the back of my head.

What are some of your favorite games to play currently?

Ben: I just started playing Star Wars Imperial Assault with some friends and it has been a blast. I have a soft spot for cooperative games like that going back to my D&D days. Last week, a friend got me into the Deadwood card game based on the Deadlands universe.

When you are looking to add a new game to your collection, what do you look for?

Ben: I’m usually drawn to a theme initially and then pulled in through the mechanics. I also really like games that have a touch of humor or whimsy. Games that can create a few laughs with the group while we’re playing end up making more memorable experiences.

Your new game, Foodtown Throwdown is currently on Kickstarter. Could you tell us a little bit about what type of game it is and give us an overview on how it is played?

Ben: Foodtown Throwdown is a card game based on the idea of players creating competing food trucks. The game is designed with humor and absurdity as a central theme. Players draw cards to collect ingredients they need to complete the available recipes. The first player to collect the right ingredients claims the recipe and gets the points. There are 59 different ingredients that fall into 6 main categories, and that’s where the absurdity comes in. Your hamburger may require meat, bread, and veggies and the cards you have mean your hamburger is made from lamb meat, cinnamon raisin bread, and broccoli.

What is the story behind the creation of the game?

Ben: It was inspired by an evening watching Food Network shows with a friend. The oddness of the ingredient choices was inspired by shows like Chopped and Iron Chef. It actually started life as a worker-placement board game where players had to manage budget, marketing, staff, and other resources. The seriousness of the gameplay ended up drawing away from the lighthearted tone of the theme, and it gradually evolved into a card game.

Did you find it hard to discard ideas for the board game and get it to a balanced light card game?

Ben: Actually I did not - each time something was changed or dropped I felt like the game was becoming more fun for it. It always felt like a natural process and I have those mechanics and ideas filed away for other games in the future.

The cards have some flavored text on them. What is your favorite flavored text in the game?

Ben: “Baby Burrito” – at 8lbs 2oz, this burrito is the size and weight of an actual human baby.

In the game, you can attack opponent with cards – how “take that” does the game feel and what type of actions can you do to someone?

Ben: One of my favorite sabotage cards affects all players at once. It is called Food Drive and it takes all ingredient cards in each person’s hands and deals them out equally to every player. It can be a blessing (if you didn't have any ingredients) or a curse (if you were right about to complete a recipe), but the players reactions always make a little more interesting.

Will people that don't like take that games still like Foodtown Throwdown, or ...well "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen?"

Ben: It's certainly not for everyone. Players that don't like randomness-generating elements in their game may find some of the sabotages off-putting. I had hoped to create a lighter sense to the game through its humor so that players know not to take it too seriously, but I understand and respect that some folks don't go for that on their game nights.

Do you have a favorite card to play on an opponent?

Ben: I like the “ingredient shortage” card which removes an ingredient from another player’s completed recipe. They lose the points until they can replace it.

Besides ingredients, recipes and action cards (the cards you can play on opponents), there are also territories/public events. How do they work in the game?

Ben: They each add a single point to the player's total, but they can be subjected to different action cards - territories can be stolen and publicity events can be discarded. Players will have to decide when to play them and when to keep them in their hand.

How did you come up with the name of the game and were there any other names you were considering?

Ben: The name started as Food Truck, Inc when it was a worker placement game because it focused more on the idea of running a business. Play testers often commented that the name no longer fit when the game shifted focus. There were a few other names we tossed around and in the end a vote with one of my testing groups came up with Foodtown Throwdown.

How does the 2-player game differ in rules or overall feel compared to 4-player game?

Ben: In the two player game, there are more recipes available (three instead of two) to keep the pace right. Having only two players does raise the tension a little bit since your turn comes around sooner and you know if the other player gets a sabotage card they are targeting right at you. It creates a different level of strategy to maybe hold on to some cards instead of playing right away so they don’t get attacked.

How have you prepared for the Foodtown Throwdown Kickstarter and have you learned anything new along the way?

Ben: I have learned so much working on this. This is the first game I am releasing as a new publisher and I am soaking in a lot of lessons from a variety of sources. I've been reading the blogs, talking to veteran project creators, learning a lot about the business side of it, getting quotes from different printers, building a social media presence, and sending out previews for feedback.

Why did you decide to self-publish instead of pitch the game to already established publishers?

Ben: I decided to self-publish this as an exercise in learning the publishing business. The ultimate goal is not only to have an outlet to publish my own games, but to be able to publish games from other independent designers. If I can get just a few more of the great ideas some of these designers have out there into more hands I'll feel like I've made a positive contribution to the overall gaming community. Through the process of creating the game and the company, I have found that the publishing aspect is something I actually enjoy.

Let’s talk the promo card for a minute – for those that don’t know what it is, can you tell us? And how did you come up with the idea of making a card after that famous Kickstarter?

Ben: The promo card for Kickstarter backers is a new ingredient “Potato Salad.” I wanted to include a card that people would recognize and get a kick out of, and a friend suggested Potato Salad as a nod to the Kickstarter community. It was the perfect fit for the feel of the game.

I noticed that there is a 5-player mini-expansion stretch goal - why not just include it in the base game?

Ben: There are two reasons – the first is that at 105 cards I felt that it has the right amount. It took a long time to get there, but the balance of ingredients, actions, and recipes feels like it’s where it should be. When testing this with five players we found that there weren’t enough points available to go around. The second reason is cost. When we added enough cards to get a 5th (or 6th if you stretch it) player to the table -20 cards in total- the manufacturing costs went up because we needed to add an extra sheet of cards. The box for the core game is large enough to fit the extra cards.

Will the cards in the 5 player mini-expansion pack offer new food types and if so can you play with them in the 2-4 player game?

Ben: There is one new ingredient type - sauce. It goes in any recipe. They were designed for another layer of absurdity, like hot dogs with gravy or salads with cocktail sauce. The expansion cards remain balanced that you can leave the cards in and not mess with the pace of the 2-4 player game. They also have a little symbol at the bottom so they can be easily identified and removed.

What is the craziest or funniest thing you have seen someone make in this game?

Ben: Jelly beans covered in parmesan cheese to complete a “cheesy beans” recipe. There was also the “salad” that was just a single leaf of lettuce and hot peppers.

Have you (or an opponent) ever made some crazy recipe and you thought "hmmm I kinda want to try that?"

Ben: Actually, yes. Someone ended up playing the vegan burger card with french bread, black beans, and olive salad. A couple of us thought that sounded good and actually tried it with a black bean veggie patty and a jar of muffuletta mix. It was surprisingly great!

Would you ever want to run a food truck - and if so, what kind of food would you sell?

Ben: I've given it some thought, but I don't think the line of work is right for me. If I went through with it I would run a dessert truck. Where I live there are restrictions governing where you are allowed to actually prepare food, desserts would get around that because they don't need to be made in the truck itself. Plus desserts are awesome.

What was the best piece of feedback you received from a play tester when you were still prototyping the game?

Ben: The best feedback was that the humor was refreshing and should be the main focus. The game was originally fairly serious, but since there aren't enough “funny” games out there, playing one that doesn't take itself too seriously was a breath of fresh air for the early play testers. That is what drove the design toward the tongue-in-cheek tone that it has now.

Let’s talk Protospiel a second - first off can you explain to those that don’t know what it is, what it is? Secondly, how big a role did it play in the making of Foodtown Throwdown?

Ben: Protospiel is a gathering of game designers and play testers with a focus on showcasing and testing each others' game designs. It was great to bounce ideas with other designers and share their insights into different things that make a game fun. Foodtown was nearly finished by the time it was tested at Protospiel last October, but the excellent feedback from players there was able to bring in some better balance to the pacing and the feel of the game, especially the two-player feel.

What was your favorite part of designing the game?

Ben: Once I started writing it as a humor game it became a lot of fun. Hearing a play tester laugh when they draw a card and read the flavor text is one of the best feelings as a designer.

What was the most challenging part of designing Foodtown Throwdown?

Ben: Getting the pace right. There were initially a lot more ingredients and ingredient types which dragged the game down a bit. There were times when three or four turns would go around with players drawing a card, but not having a play. Cutting down on the ingredients (many had been even been illustrated already) and adding more actions was a delicate balancing act.

Could you share with us, what were some ingredients you had to get cut were?

Ben: There was a dessert category that got the chopping block so ingredients like chocolate and caramel sauce had to go. I was also sorry to have to let go of Lettuce Juice. The card was a drawing of a glass of water that read "100% fresh squeezed," but we needed to trim some things. There were seafood ingredients like sardines and anchovies that got cut, but may reappear in a possible future add-on.

What was the greatest lesson you learned designing Foodtown Throwdown?

Ben: Learning how to evaluate the feedback from testers was important. Learning not just what they liked or did not like, but why they did or did not like it - what it was about that element that made them feel that way. Learning why lets you take lessons from their feedback not just on the one specific element, but to the design philosophy in general.

When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the most proud that you designed Foodtown Throwdown?

Ben: Making something that can make people laugh, whether it’s the theme or the flavor text or the absurdity of trying to imagine the dish they just made, that makes me smile. People may not remember who won or how they did, but they remember things that made them laugh.

Do you have a comment for anyone out there that may be on the fence about pledging for the game?

Ben: One thing I was surprised to discover when I sent it out to friends for blind testing was how many of them told me that their non-gamer friends really enjoyed it. It brought new people to their gaming table and I hope that it can bring new people to the tables of my backers.

Prototype of Foodtown Throwdown

Finish this sentence in 12 words or less. Foodtown Throwdown is ________.

Ben: …a game that adds a little humor and color to your collection.

Do you have any other games you designed that we should be on the look out for later this year?

Ben: I’ve got a worker-placement Euro style game in the works now, but it’s unlikely to release this year. While that is in development I will be looking for games from other independent designers to publish.

Speaking publishing other designer games – what kind of game is Argyle Games looking for?

Ben: I haven't established a niche of games that I would like to publish yet - I first want to get a few very different types of things out there to see what fits best and determine what my place in the market will be. For the first few games I will probably meet with designers directly at conventions or hold design contests. For example, I have really been enjoying cooperative games so I may hold a coop design contest with a publishing contract for the winner. Once I have my legs under me in terms of the business of publishing and I feel ready for open submissions, I'll setup a way for designers to contact me through our website.

As we wrap this up, is there anything else you would like to add?

Ben: I would like thank you for the opportunity and thank your readers for checking out the project. The support I've gotten so far has really made me proud to be a part of the board gaming community.

Thank you, Ben.

For those interested in checking out Foodtown Throwdown on Kickstarter, you can do so by clicking on this link.

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