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Interview to Bryan Johnson

Jaime "Jason Rider" Polo
S/C de Tenerife
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We had the oportunity to interview Bryan Johnson, the designer behind the Kikck Starter Project "Island Fortress" who get the funds to produce this game. Also he make his own publisher company "Frost Forge Games" and we hope that in the future will be able to see more of his game published.

Now you can read the interview.

* How do you start at the boardgames?

It can happen in many ways. Usually though, I get an idea for a game from a particular theme or mechanic I would like to see in a game and then build around that. I also sometimes like to lay out a bunch of bits and game components on a table and just look at them. Sometimes game ideas come to me that way too.

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

You know, I really can't remember the very FIRST game I owned. I've always been surrounded by games my entire life, so it's hard to tell which one was my very first. I will say, however, I do remember some games I owned while growing up in the 1970s. The earliest games I can remember owning are...
Jaws - http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/7563/jaws
Cat's Eye - http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/10020/cats-eye
Operation - http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3737/operation
Star Wars: Escape From Death Star - http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/4845/star-wars-escape-fro...
Hungry Hungry Hippos - http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/5895/hungry-hungry-hippos
Mouse Trap - http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/2679/mouse-trap

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

Every week is different. If you are talking about boardgame DESIGN, it can vary greatly. I would say, on average, about 8-10 hours per week on design. Of course, I have my "real" job I work each week, too. If we are talking about PLAYING games, it is considerably less time. Unfortunately, I don't play nearly as often as I used to or would like to.

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

Well, in the case of Island Fortress, it's been over 5 years, and I was STILL working on it up until we went live on Kickstarter! Hahaha. I have about a half dozen other prototypes that are in various stages of completion. Obviously, the more complex the game is, the longer it will take to finish. If I can get steady playtesting done, most of the games can be "finished" in about 6 to 12 months.

* Did you get first the mechanics or the themes when you design?

It can happen both ways. Some games I have designed around a mechanic. Others, I have designed around a theme.
With the mechanics, many times I am altering a mechanic that is already familiar in some games and making it just a little bit different. Other times, new mechanic ideas come to me out of necessity to complete the game or to support another mechanic already existing in the game.
With the theme, I like to think about themes that have not been done before (or done often). Island Fortress originally had a Great Wall of China theme when I began designing it. However, two other games with a Great Wall theme have been published since then. Now, the game has a penal colony theme, which I don't ever remember seeing in any other game.

* What can you tell us about your first games?

The first game I ever designed was a game called "Realm" which is about playing the role of a knight in a medieval setting. I began designing it in 2001. Every knight in the game had his own unique statistics, strengths and weaknesses. The knights could go on quests, compete in tournaments and even have combat with other players' knights in the game. I can't say too much more about it right now because it is a game I will be returning to and working on again in the near future to eventually get it ready for publication.

* What can you tell us about Island Fortress?

Island Fortress is a game about a penal colony building a mighty fortress for the Governor on a remote island. The players use identical decks of five role cards to plot their actions in the game such as buying workers and wall blocks, collecting money, building the wall, etc. Players struggle for majority of blocks built on the various levels of the wall which award victory points. Players can also gain victory points and other rewards for building the wall in specific patterns for the Governor as detailed on the Favor Cards. The base game is for 2-4 players, with the expansion allowing up to 6 players.

* How did you get the idea to make the game?

Island Fortress came together in a way that is very unusual for me. In fact, I was not even thinking about game design when I started getting ideas for it. I was working the night shift at my normal job in early 2005 and our floor at work has square patterns on it. On this particular night, I began thinking of the various patterns I could make with the squares. The next night, I found myself doing the same thing, and when I got home I began drawing the patterns out on graph paper and somehow felt inspired enough to base a game design around that. This is also strange because the pattern building aspect of the game is not the main feature of the game.
The initial design of the game had a Great Wall of China theme and was titled, "Huang Di" before I re-themed the game as a colonial-era penal colony. I realize I could have chosen nearly any theme for this game such as the Great Pyramids of Egypt, Roman Aqueducts, you name it. But I wanted to use a theme that was not used many times already by other designers.

* Can you tell us a bit more about the game?

The game plays beautifully with 2 players. In fact, it is my favorite way to play the game! Another feature of the game, which I added in September 2011, was Treasures. Treasures can be obtained by sending 2 of your convict workers to prisons in the game. When you collect a Treasure, you gain 1 victory point. As an added bonus, for every 3 Treasures you have acquired, you gain additional money when you play the Treasurer role card! Money in the game is jade. There are a couple of reasons we use jade instead of coins. First, it is very different for a game like this to have something other than coins for money, and it looks cool! Secondly, there is going to be a backstory of the game that explains how jade became the money on this island.

* Do you play your own games?

I do. I know some designers who NEVER play their own games, and I know others who play ONLY their own games. I guess I am in between. I play my own, but I also greatly enjoy playing games from other designers.

* Do you play online? If you do it, what games do you play online?

I usually don't. I am more of a fan of face to face boardgames rather than online play. The only times in recent years when I have played online is when I would occasionally play Island Fortress (when it was still called "Huang Di') on JKLM Games' interactive website.

* Will have an App of any of your games? (Android or iPad)

I'm not sure right now. I think it's still too early to say. If I was approached by someone who wanted to produce an app I would not be opposed to it if we could work something out.

* Will be published in Spanish any of your games?

Right now, Island Fortress is being published in English, but there is very little in the game that is language dependant. The game can easily be played by anyone once the rules are learned. We will be using plenty of iconography and diagrammatic illustration, so it should be easy for anyone. I have been approached by a few people who would like to translate the game rules into Korean, German and Dutch, which I think is great! If somebody with experience translating games wanted to make a set of rules in Spanish, I would also be willing to work something out with them.
As for future games, it is hard to say. I am self-publishing my games with Frost Forge Games right now and it is difficult enough just trying to get the games published in English! Hahahaha. It would be fantastic to have all of my games available in multiple languages someday.

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

Well, for me, I would certainly have to say Settlers of Catan because of its popularity, easy play and it was the winner of the Spiel des Jahres and many other awards.

* Which other desingers do you admire?

There are quite a few. I admire Wolfgang Kramer, Stefan Feld, Alan R. Moon, Mike Fitzgerald, Reiner Knizia and Klaus Teuber. If I had to choose a favorite designer, I would have to say Emanuele Ornella. I've always thought his games were clever and fun and they always appealed to me.

* Can you tell us your top 5 games?

New England by Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum. I'll always have a soft spot for this game. I enjoy the tension of possibly running out of space to develop land in the game and it is a game that has a near perfect bidding mechanic. I also think it is a very unerrated game.
Ys by Cyril Demaegd. Very clever and original mechanics in this one with a lot going on.
Santiago by Claudia Hely and Roman Pelek. A great game of economics and irrigation. I also love how the players try to bribe the Canal Overseer to get the water flowing in the direction of their choice.
Goa by Rüdiger Dorn. Nice, deep strategy game. Outstanding art and high quality components.
The Princes of Florence by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich. I love the method of auctioning, but hate how I want to do 6 or 7 things on my turn but I only get 2 actions! Creates very tough decision making every round.

* If you only could choose one game to play with 3 friends more, what game will you chose?

For a boardgame, I would have to say New England or Santiago. For a card game, I would choose either Wizard or Die Sieben Siegel.

* And to play alone?

I think the only boardgame I ever played solo is Roads and Boats, so I would choose that.

* Select a game for only 2 players

Probably Lost Cities by Reiner Knizia.

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

The Resistance by Don Eskridge. As a fan of playing Werewolves, I really fell in love with this game right away. It gave a lot of depth to the Werewolf concept.

* Any future project?

Unfortunately, nothing I can really talk about at the moment except "Realm" which I mentioned earlier and I am also currently working on a game that will be the "prequel" to Island Fortress. I am really looking forward to finishing that one up.

* Nowadays there are a lot of new companies, more and more games, what do you think about this... the market can handle with all this new games or will collapse?

Well, it's interesting. I have thought about that before as well. It seems to me that despite being many, many new games being introduced to the public over the years, the market does well. That said, I don't know if all of these games hurt the sales of each other or not. I think good games will always continue to do well, no matter how many games are released each year. It's the poorly designed games that will likely suffer.

* What do you think about the project Kick Started?

Kickstarter is a great avenue for publishers and designers to explore. It's a bit scary though because it's all or nothing! There is no middle ground. You either make your funding goal, or you don't. Only about 50% of all games on Kickstarter get fully-funded, so you REALLY want to make sure you have a good product to show before you consider using it.

* Any advise for the new designers?

This one's easy. Never give up. If you believe you have a good game and others do too, never give up. I designed Island Fortress in 2005, got a contract to have it published by 2 different publishing companies in 2006 and 2007 (both of whom failed to get the game published because of internal problems), and now, I am finally going to see this game come to life in 2012 through self-publishing! Designing games isn't easy and it takes a tremendous amount of work and dedication, but if you have a great idea for a game, never give up.

* What question have you never done and would like to answer?

I can't think of any right now!!! Hahaha, sorry!

* Game of 2011

Trajan by Stefan Feld.

* The best art in a game of 2011

Even though it won't be officially released until 2012, I'm going to go ahead and choose Island Fortress. Our artist, Dann May, is just amazing. The box cover art has really gained a lot of attention. I couldn't be happier with the artwork of this game.

* Why do you design games? For work, to make money, because you like it, for vocation?

I do it because I will probably go crazy if I don't! Hahahaha. What I mean by that is that game ideas come to me. I get ideas in my head and I can't function normally or even sleep unless I begin writing the ideas down and start designing the game! Hahaha, it's really bad. I will lie awake in bed, unable to sleep unless I get up and begin designing. It really is a labor of love. You have to love designing if you want to be a game designer. I enjoy seeing the random thoughts in my head become a real, working game.

* After design this game, do you think to continue designing games or it is not worth to do it (economic/motivation)?

I will continue designing. I've been doing it now for over 10 years and I've learned a lot and I realize that not all game ideas are good ones, and I can accept that. I have a few other games lined up that still need to be worked on and playtested, but I do plan on having them published eventually.
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