Tuesday, February 21, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 51: Lucas Gerlach

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples.

Name:Lucas Gerlach
Location:Watertown, Wisconsin
Day Job:I teach second and third graders.
Designing:Two to five years.
Facebook:Gerlach Games
YouTube:Gerlach Games
Other:Tabletop Generation
Find my games at:The Game Crafter, BGG PnP, In stores soon
Today's Interview is with:

Lucas Gerlach
Interviewed on: 1/6/2017

I first met Lucas Gerlach online. He organizes a regular Rules Exchange in a the Game Makers Lab on Facebook and also enters many of the same design contests on BGG that I do. Last year we finally met in person at the Madison Protospiel, although we didn't have the chance to play each other's games. Hopefully that'll change at the next event we both attend. Lucas has a number of great game designs and will have his first published games available this year!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I just couldn't help myself! Designing tabletop games is a wonderful creative outlet. I love all that goes into designing games... envisioning player interactions, refining mechanics, designing components, writing rules, constructing prototypes. I consider game design to be a form of art that incorporates several kinds of thinking. That's fun for me, and I hope the results are fun for those who play my games.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Tornado Chasers is my most recent design. It was an entry in the 2016 Mint Tin Design Contest and is currently entered in the 2016 PNP Game Design Awards. I also sporadically work on Interstellar Envoys and Mine! All Mine!

Have you designed any games that have been published?
While I don't have any games that are currently published, two of my games are on the way to being published this year. Quick Simple Fun Games will be publishing De Stijl, a card placement game based on the art of Piet Mondrian, as well as Spyzinger, an animal espionage game of flick-and-deliver.

What is your day job?
I teach second and third graders.

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
My favorite place to play games is in my own home, but I am certainly happy to play games just about anywhere.

Who do you normally game with?
The person I most often play with is my son (currently 12). I also frequently play with the rest of my family. In addition, I play with my local game group (the Johnson Creek/Jefferson County Gamers) and various other friends in the area.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
I would like to play a mix of games. I'd start with something simple like Ghost Blitz, move onto a co-op like Burgle Bros, go onto a Euro like Hansa Teutonica, then end with something a little lighter like Tobago.

And what snacks would you eat?
Chips and guacamole, veggies, and cookies

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I'm not a huge fan of having music play while playing games, but I'm okay with it if someone else wants it. Sometimes I will listen to 80s music or They Might Be Giants if I'm gaming with the right friends.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Unfortunately, I'm not really close to a great FLGS. I'm Bored in Madison is a great store, and I have to give a shout out to the GameBoard in Sheboygan. (Though I haven't actually been there, the owner has encouraged me as a designer, is involved in her community, and does a great job of promoting games.)

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
My current favorite might be Manhattan Project: Energy Empire, though my favorite game may vary from day to day.

The least favorite game I enjoy would be almost any social deduction game. I like being and playing with the people, but I just can't seem to get into that type of game.

I hate to say "worst game," but the game I felt was one of the least enjoyable experiences for me might be Fossil.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Lately, I'm finding that I really enjoy games that incorporate point-to-point movement of a single piece. It allows me to identify with whoever or whatever the token represents.

The memory mechanic is my least favorite.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
I own and enjoy Brew Crafters, but it's just not the type of game my family would play and is a bit too dry for my usual gaming group.

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
Usually I'm a theme-first kind of guy, but it's really quite variable. Sometimes it'll start with mechanics, with a challenge, with components, or with desired player interactions.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I've entered a number of game design competitions including two player PnP contests, microgame contests, a dice game design contest, and the mint tin design contest (all on BGG). I've also entered games into a couple dexterity game design contests (Mayday Games and Greater Than Games), the Cardboard Edison Award, and the KBG Design contest.

Though I haven't won the top award in any one competition, I have received a number of runner-up awards as well as awards like "funniest."

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Not really a favorite, but some designers I greatly admire are Tim Fowers, Jamey Stegmaier, Vlaada Chvátil, and Antoine Bauza.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Usually I get my best ideas when I'm sitting in a meeting and am supposed to be focused on something else.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I usually start with solo playtesting, then play with my son, then with my extended family, then with my friends. After that, I take my game to local designer meetups, to my gaming group, and to protospiels or other conventions. I may post PnP designs on Facebook or Board Game Geek. I ask for rules feedback on the Rules Exchange in Game Maker's Lab. If the game is ready and worthy, I send the game to volunteers for blind playtests.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I do pretty much everything on my own. That said, I heavily rely on feedback gathered from playtesters and critics. I love these discussions and recognize that my games benefit greatly from their input. In many ways, it's like being part of one big team.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Playtesting in a regular and timely manner. I'm also not a great talker, so I have a difficult time asking insightful questions when playtesting.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series of books

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
It will consume you! Really though, there's not anything in particular I wish someone had told me. I enjoy figuring out things as I go along. I have read a number of game design books and articles and ask for advice from others. That's all part of learning as I go, and that's part of the fun of designing games!

Oh... one thing... board game contests are great, but their chief benefits are the discussions they engender, not the awards that are given. The lack of recognition in one of these contests (especially on BGG) is not failure.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Like a lot of things, there's not only one right method to be used when designing games. Find what works for you, refine it, and enjoy it.

I would say, though, that there are four things you must do: Design. Play. Discuss. Listen.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Games that will soon be published are: De Stijl: An abstract game of overlapping card placement. Try to place the cards so that you have more separate spaces than your opponents, but gain bonuses for having the largest contiguous spaces. (Tentatively coming in late summer 2017.) Check it out on its BGG page at https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/168544/de-stijl

Spyzinger: A flicking game in which you attempt to physically capture secrets from your enemies and return them to your base. Your tokens consist of differently shaped agent tokens, each with different abilities. (Tentatively coming late in 2017.) Check out a video overview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_XEriN6l28

Currently looking for a publisher I have: Interstellar Envoys
I'm planning to crowdfund: This is not something I ever plan to do, especially not on my own.
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Tornado Chasers
Games that I'm playtesting are: Mine! All Mine!
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Lots!

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Game Maker's Lab, Card and Board Game Designers Guild, Consortium of Game Developers, Midwest Tabletop Game Design, Startup Board & Card Game Designers, Protospiel, Christian Game Developers: Tabletop Edition, Designer/Publisher Speed Dating

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Both! Coke. VHS

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Hiking, biking, drawing/painting, reading

What is something you learned in the last week?
Pluto appears to have a huge ice volcano.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
My family and I mostly listen to our local contemporary Christian radio station. My favorite movies and books tend towards science fiction. I also enjoy action, adventure, and nonfiction.

What was the last book you read?
Lost and Found by Alan Dean Foster

Do you play any musical instruments?
Ukulele and piano... though not at the same time and not very well. I also sing!

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
My wife and I taught at an international school in Shanghai, China for 11 years. Our three kids were all born there. It was an amazing time in our lives.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I'm not generally a "crazy" kind of guy. Way back in high school, I went on a trip to what was then the Soviet Union. One night, a few other kids and I threw water balloons out of a hotel window in Minsk. We all got really quiet and turned off the lights when people started looking for the source of the projectiles. We did not want to find out how the Soviet authorities would deal with some rabble-rousing American kids.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
I'm having a tough time answering this one. As someone with a background in art, accidents quickly get incorporated into the big scheme of things, quickly becoming part of the original plan. Either that or they get blotted out forever.

Who is your idol?
My wife. She's awesome.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
I'd trade it in for a space ship and do some galactic sight seeing

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
I'm one of those people who rarely fits into one category or another. I'm not a big talker and often feel awkward when socializing with other adults. Put me in front of a group of people though, and I'm good.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
I actually have my own superhero identity... SmileyMan. While living in Shanghai, I drew up a suit and had it made. It was great trying to explain to the tailor exactly what I wanted.

"For life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!"

By the way, if you've never been to the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, I recommend going when in New York.

Have any pets?
Well, my daughter has a bunny we keep outside.

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
I hope books, writing, and numerous forms of arts and games survive. I hope rudeness, self-seeking behaviors, and television are wiped out.

If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
I've got to give a shout out to my Shanghai gaming buddies. They're the ones who got me back into the boardgame hobby, and they're a great bunch of people!

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

The board game design community is amazing. Thank you for being a part of it! If you're not a part of it yet, it's definitely worth your time and effort.

I wish you joy in your work and play!

Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

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  1. It's excellent to read about one of my favorite people, who also happens to be a great game designer. I'm looking forward to picking up Spyzingers and De Stijl!

    1. Thanks for reading the article, David. It's great to hear from you!