“20 Questions” 2D6.org Interviews – Richard Launius
Hello and welcome Richard Launius to 2D6.org’s “20 questions” and answers from the readers segment. Richard is a game designer with a pedigree of great games under his belt including a game that after 7 years STILL holds a commanding position in the top 100 board games of all time over at boardgamegeek.com. That distinction alone should be enough to cement a game designers name into the minds of fans. Richard has many other memorable game design credits including the fantastic fantasy based co-operative game Defenders of the Realm, the dice based game Elder Sign, the expansion to Mansions of Madness – Seasons of the Witch, and the recently released Dragon Rampage! 2012 should also see the release of the Noir card game Ace Detective and the super hero card game Sentinels of the Multiverse: Infernal Relics!
2D6.org: Richard, could you please introduce yourself and for those who may not know, tell us how you became involved in the board game industry and what first inspired you to design board games?
RL: First of all, thank you for the opportunity to talk with you and your readers. As an introduction I would share that I worked for 32 years in various AT&T Yellow Pages subsidiaries managing everything from art departments, to publishing, ultimately to the entire technology organization for the last 12 years of my tenure. During this time I also designed games on the side and upon retiring 2 years ago began designing games full time.
I do not think there is any one thing that inspired me to do game designs. I have always enjoyed being creative and using my art skills in a hobby (gaming) that I truly love. Although I designed some games in college as a special Winter Term course, but real design started for me in writing role-playing scenarios for Call of Cthulhu and that exercise in creative storytelling became the catalyst that formed my vision for future board games – a focus on theme and adventure and designing my games so that they provide an experience and not just a winner. My goal in design is for the game to create a memorable story in each session.
2D6.org: Are you currently a full time game designer?
RL: Yes, I am the owner of King Richard Games, LLC, and focus on game designs that I contract to publishers.
2D6.org: What were some of your favorite games when you first got into the board game hobby and what are some of your more recent favorites? Do you find yourself attracted first to theme or gameplay when looking at new games?
RL: When I first started board gaming in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s there were not a lot of choices as we experience today. In fact I suspect that there were less games published annually then are published monthly now. I played mostly sports games back then, games like Paydirt and Pennant Race but I really started getting into gaming with Battle Cry (The Milton Bradley Edition), Dogfight, Road Kill, Amoeba Wars, Dune, Wizards Quest and several other non-historical War Games as they came out. Then Games Workshop and Wizards of the Coast came along and I started playing Dungeonquest, Talisman, Dracula, and Knights of Camelot, and the whole Warhammer Fantasy and 40k.
Now, I prefer games that are heavy in theme and prefer coop games to competitive, but I play both. Beyond my designs I really I enjoy Cosmic Encounters, Star War Queens Gambit, Yggdrasil, Conquest of Planet Earth, Roma, Chaos in the Old World, Dracula (FFG), Civilization (FFG), Ghost Stories, Musketeers Du Roy, Sentinels of the Multiverse, and Epic Thunderstone to name a few. Now, as most people who know me are aware, I may or may not play them by the written rules.
2D6.org: When you are working on or designing new games, do you find yourself coming up with a theme and then creating mechanics for it or do you start with the mechanics first and then work on the theme?
RL: I always start with a theme. Not much more I can really say to this except to add that game design for me is more art than science. I work to create the theme in the best way possible that will engage the players and build a story. Once I know the theme and the game objectives, the mechanics are developed to work with them.
2D6.org: There are definitely strong ties to the works of H P Lovecraft showing in some of your game designs. Is Pulp Horror a theme that you enjoy designing and find yourself really attracted to? Are there any other themes you would really like to explore but have not done so ye? Are there any genres or themes that you feel are neglected? Have you ever considered creating a game with a Steam-Punk theme?
RL: Yes, I definitely love the mythos and pulp horror theme created by HP Lovecraft and really enjoy designing games in that world. But for me, any theme that enables adventure and great storytelling is a theme I would like to designs games for. Themes I prefer include epic Fantasy, Science Fiction set in the post-apocalyptic world, Space Adventure (not warfare), Pirate Adventure, Time Travel, and Gangsters and the gritty world of Detective Noir. While I like the theme of Steam-Punk, I have not to date considered doing a game based on the theme. I have some ideas for a game with a Space Cowboy theme and can see how Steam-Punk might fit into it.
2D6.org: Can we look forward to a return to the world of H.P. Lovecraft in any of your future game designs after Infernal Relics?
RL: I hope to do more stories for Mansions of Madness, but beyond existing games I have several in the works that draw from Lovecraft. My game Ace Detective published by 8th Summit Games is currently at the printer and for the KickStarter supporters they will get the Strange Tales Expansion that enables the telling of horror tales, including HP Lovecraft tales and quotes from his stories on the Narration cards. Additionally, 8th Summit plans on publishing Mythos Tales in 2013 designed by myself and Jason Maxwell (SMERSH) in which two players work through ever changing stories by controlling the actions of the characters in the story. I have also been working on another light storytelling game with Jim Dietz (Jolly Rogers Games) entitled Cthulhu’s Vault. Last, but not least, I hope to do some mechanics updating on Trail of the Brotherhood next year and move it forward in publishing again (based on publishing issues this game has experienced, it truly [has] been cursed by Cthulhu), and I am currently in an early game design of a mythos combat game with the working title The Ceremony in which players use their characters to defeat a cult ceremony and the deadly tentacles from the creature they have summoned.
2D6.org: Deck building games have become more and more popular in the industry and you are set to add your own unique spin to card games with the release of Defenders of the Realm: Battlefields and Sentinels of the Multiverse: Infernal Relics. Do you feel there are still undiscovered mechanics to explore with deck building games or are we heading towards the proverbial wall? Do you think there is a limit to what can be done, gameplay wise, in a card game?
RL: While neither of those games are deck building, but rather playing with unique decks. I do believe that the deck building mechanic can be implemented into many adventure games uniquely and effectively. I also think we will continue to see it with a mix of other mechanics in several games for years to come and personally like that kind of mix.
2D6.org: Defenders of the Realm is your own original game design that you are now re-imagining as a card game format with Defenders of the Realm: Battlefields. How do you feel about other board games, Shadows over Camelot for example, doing the same?
RL: I think that the key to taking a game from board to card media is only successful if the new game provides a different (and interesting) experience for the players. In the case of Defenders of the Realm: Battlefields, while the game uses the same world and characters, game play changes dramatically. First of all, the game moves from cooperative to competitive. Therefore, the players will have a very different experience when playing it, but the key characters and locations from the board game will be very familiar. As for me, I prefer to see new games rather than card versions of the same game, but if implemented in a way to bring a different experience for the players I certainly support both.
2D6.org: Defenders of the Realm: Battlefields, is a new direction for the property, where did the idea come from and would you tell us about some of the design processes and decisions that went into designing the game?
RL: Not long after the board game was published I wanted to create a competitive card game from the Defenders of the Realm Universe simply because I enjoy card games as well as board games and felt the universe of the realm would support this type of game. My idea was to create a competitive game using the locations and characters (Heroes and Dark Lord Generals & Minions) in the game. It just so happened that I had already created very successful mechanics that fit the game perfectly in a Marvel Superhero series, but because of licensing no publishing company seemed interested in looking at it. So, using the basic mechanics from my Mutant Wars: X-Men VS The Brotherhood, along with a number of changes to better fit the fantasy world Defenders of the Realm: Battlefields was created. I think the game will appeal to a lot of gamers, both those that enjoy the Defenders board game and others that enjoy head to head competitive play as well.
2D6.org: You have a reputation for being an extremely easy to approach designer often giving tips and advice to other game designers at conventions. Is this how you became involved in the Sentinels of the Multiverse: Infernal Relics expansion? How has this collaborative experience been for you? Can we look forward to more collaborative designs between you and other developers or do you prefer to follow your own designs?
RL: Thank you for the compliment, and I hope people do see me as highly approachable because I enjoy talking, interacting, and gaming with pretty much everyone. In the case of Sentinels of the Multiverse: Infernal Relics, I really loved the game and as such had been designing some new Heroes, Villains and Environments and began posting a few pictures onto the BGG page for the game. I think Christopher saw them and contacted me and asked me if I would like to assist in the Relics expansion as he believed that some of creations looked to be a good fit. I was more than glad to work with them and the experience was an enjoyable one. Christopher and all the folks at Greater Than Games are a creative and energetic group. I really like all the stuff they have come out with up until now and predict they will continue to bring fun and exciting games to the market for many years to come. I hope to do more collaborative work with various designers and companies in the future. While I have several of my own game designs in development at the present (Alien Uprising and The Ceremony to name a couple), I also have several designs I am doing with other people (Caverns of Gold, Chronos Wars, Mythos Tales, and my favorite working title Master Villain, Super Spies, and Schemes of Mass Destruction.
2D6.org: Kickstarter, love it or hate it, has become a popular topic these days with consumers, designers, and publishers. You are in the unique position of being a very well regarded designer who has very popular game designs produced through publishers and Kickstarter. What are some of your feelings and opinions on kickstarter.com and crowd funding in general, specifically from the position of a game designer? As a designer do you prefer using an established publisher over Kickstarter.com?
RL: This is an interesting question and one that is not easy to answer. It seems clear to me that KickStarter has revolutionized the game publishing industry for better or worse. I believe that it has put the end to the P500 for most companies and suspect that it will for all before too long. As for me, I am neither pro nor con in relation to KickStarter since even if my games go onto KickStarter, the majority of the KS work (and there is quite a bit of communication and support while the project is active on KS) is done by the publisher. I cannot speak for all designers, but for me the KickStarter process does impact me in that the publisher requests additional work to be done on games as they get ready to post them to KS. This additional work is related to developing what I refer to as KS “Bling” – extra stuff that only KS supporters get, and the special awards that come at the various levels of investment. Now, the creation of this stuff can be very time consuming to designers, at least they are for me as I try to make sure the “Bling” is valuable to the players buying the game and actually have real value in the playing of the game. So, the biggest impact KS has for me is that it delays the completion of new projects I am working on as I am drawn back into designs that have already been contracted to publishers. So, to answer your question, I would prefer the publisher not use KickStarter because it slows down my work on new games, but I understand and support any publishers that choose the KS path to publication.
2D6.org: Kickstarter is a great opportunity for game designers new and old to get projects up and running. From a customers perspective there is concern about a distinct lack of play testing and polish, do you feel this is a valid concern? I realize publishers can create lackluster games but there is a perception that publishers have a vested financial incentive to see a games success and are less likely to release a sub par property. Do you think Kickstarter.com for lack of better wording has shifted the risk onto the consumer?
RL: I do not think games that go through KickStarter have any less play testing than games published through the normal Publisher cycle. I do however recognize that there are a lot of projects that just may not have been that good of a game that goes up on KickStarter with a nice video and good artwork which drives a lot of supporters. Many of these games would never have been picked up and published by a game company because the game play is not that good, or if it had been picked up by a publisher the game may have had extensive development (a process that usually makes a game better in my opinion), so I think it is possible that people may be disappointed with many of these games they support when they finally play them. I believe that players are often taking a chance when they support a KS project much like financial novices investing the Stock Market, at times their analysis may have them purchasing a loser rather than the winner they originally thought it would be.
2D6.org: Do you think publishers using Kickstarter.com will lead to lower overall quality since a publisher isn’t as financially tied to the success of a game?
RL: No, I think the quality of games from publishers will remain high quality regardless of how they fund the project. First of all, the publisher is not just trying to just sell a minimum number of games. Their business plans focus on a higher sales volume than an individual that just wanting to get their game on the market. In fact, most publishers are looking to put out a game that will be reprinted multiple times. I think a bigger issue related to with publishers using KickStarter is that their production schedule is much slower, delaying by months when a game is published. When not using KS, the publisher begins their production of the product much quicker and pushes it to market quicker because they have invested their capital into publishing the game and want to get it on the market to recover their investment and make a profit. With KickStarter, they must wait for the funding and either have no capital investment or a minimal capital investment since they are using the funds invested by the game supporters. That is not to say they do not work to get it out in a timely manner, but rather that the process is automatically slower and they have less financial pressure to get it published.
2D6.org: Arkham Horror is a fantastic co-operative game with numerous great expansions that really expand the gameplay and challenge of the base game. With multiple expansions the game can get a little overwhelming for a new player to dive into though. What would you suggest as the optimal order to purchase the expansions and can we look forward to any more expansions coming out?
RL: It is true that Arkham Horror can be intimidating to new players, but it is also true that once players get a grasp of the rules the game is not really difficult to play and expanding it becomes a natural process. When it comes to expansions, I am a proponent of playing the base game many times prior to adding expansions. When you do add expansions, I would recommend that the first expansion to get would be the Dunwich expansion. Even if the players do not want to add the additional board when they get the Dunwich expansion, they can easily add the Injury and Mania decks into play, dropping the base game rules for losing all Sanity or Stamina. Players also gain new Investigators, additional adventures to each location in Arkham, new Great Old Ones, and new Monsters. I also think the Dunwich extended board is a nice addition for players to use as their first expanded board. After Dunwich I would add some of the smaller box sets; The King in Yellow, The Dark Pharaoh, The Lurker in the Threshold. The other expansions are all good, and I highly recommend getting them, but this is a good start.
2D6.org: Can we look forward to any more boxed expansions for Defenders of the Realm, or is the Dragon Expansion the only big box expansion planned? Any future plans for Dragon Rampage?
RL: I certainly hope so. Eagle Games has been slow as late to get more out, but there are several complete and ready to publish. These expansions include Generals of the Dark Lord with 4 new Generals and rules for their minions, Companions and Catacombs, a boxed set of the Great Battles for the Realm (a nice set of the summer league battles as well as a couple of new battles with miniatures and tokens), one more Hero Expansion IV, Quests of the Realm, The Troll Alliance, and possibly a new edition of the game. While Eagle Games has been slow in getting the expansions out this year, they continue to express their intent to me that they will publish many of these expansions – and at present have been sending me sketches of the new art for the 2nd edition of Defenders of the Realm.
As far as Dragon Rampage, the chance for new heroes, additional cards for each existing hero and some new Treasure and Dragon Rampage cards would be a nice edition, but whether anything is published will rely upon improved sales results. Since the game has just not gotten much attention or sales results, it is doubtful, but since people that play it continue to like the game, I remain hopeful.
2D6.org: Finally Ace Detective looks like an interesting story telling game. Good Story Telling games are pretty rare in the board game industry, with Tales of the Arabian Nights being the most popular. Where did you get the idea for Ace Detective, can you tell us more about the game, and how was it working with 8th Summit Games?
RL: Ace Detective is a unique game in which the creativity of the players drive the real fun and make the gaming experience memorable. Unlike Tales of Arabian Nights, there is no reading paragraphs in a choose your adventure type of game, but rather the play of cards that represent People, Places, Action, Mood, Clues and Special Events that the players will use their imaginations to build their story around. There is 1 Detective character that is the star of the game, and 4 Suspects in each mystery that players use in their tale, working at the same time to place clue tokens on them to ultimately reveal the guilty party. While there is a winner based on Clue placement, the real fun of the game comes in the stories that are told.
The original Ace Detective design was first created in the mid-80’s, not long after I designed the 1st edition of Arkham Horror. The idea came from a game I used to play with my children when driving on trips (you know, the time before DVDs and video games could be played on long trips) where I would start a story and then they would pick the next direction of the tale at certain points and we will build on those ideas forward. Of course, the stories we created were more like a fairy tale, but it is from that that experience coupled with the movie Hammett (a fictional story about Dashell Hammett) that gave me the idea to create a structured storytelling game on the detective noir. It was probably 3 years ago that I pulled the old files from the game and created a more update game that is the game being published at this time. Although I always showed the box for the game to publishers all expressed they were not interested in storytelling games without even looking at the game, so no one even looked at it until Jason from 8th Summit Games pulled it out of my prototype closet and wanted to publish it. He had already played it and liked it and wanted his new company to focus on storytelling games, so Ace Detective was a perfect fit.
Jason Maxwell, the owner of 8th Summit Games is a longtime friend and an excellent business person and game designer in his own right. He has been great to work with and together we developed Ace Detective to make the game mechanics more refined to ensure a better storytelling and game experience. Jason has been great to work with because he really loves this project and wants it to be the best it can be, to that end he managed to get the rights to many of the old Black Mask pulp magazine cover art that I had used in the prototype, making the game as attractive to look at as it is to play.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with Ace Detective, the setting is 1940 – 1941 San Francisco, the city on the bay where the fog is thick and the intrigue even thicker. The players are given the basic information about a crime, the key suspects and the lead detective around whom they will craft their story using cards from their hand to tell brief segments each turn. The game provides the structure in which the game will unfold, but with creative players no two tales will ever be the same, even when investigated the same crime. I think creative people will really enjoy Ace Detective and the any stories that can be told with the cards. The KickStarter supporter also could get the Strange Tales Expansion, adding cards that bring in Gothic Horror, Lovecraft quotes, and Suspect Secrets where by the players can craft a story on everything from Vampires to Alien Invasions from Outer Space, to Lovecraft Cursed Statues and Depraved Cultists.
We at 2D6.org would like to thank Richard for taking the time out of his very busy schedule for this interview. We look forward to his future releases and can’t wait to see what they will bring!