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.
Interviewed on: 1/30/2017
Back in 2014 Brad Finlayson successfully Kickstarted his first game, Symetra. Now he's back with his second game on Kickstarter. Wizard's WARdrobe launched on March 2nd and runs through April 8th. Read on to learn more about Brad and the other games he's working on.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Over ten years!
Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I've always loved tabletop games (Dad gave me original basic D&D when I was 7) but I really wanted to make video games. I went to Video Game Design school in 2000/2001 and worked on a few indie projects with friends, however, no matter how close we got to finishing, we never could. A key player would always leave (usually the lead programmer, usually to a real job programming games) before it could reach completion, so I decided to switch my focus to tabletop games as I felt I could complete a project by doing most of the grunt work myself. The video game design experience definitely helps me with tabletop design, and I do plan to return to some video games in the future.
What game or games are you currently working on?
My main current project is Wizard's WARdrobe that is on Kickstarter through April 8th.
I have a co-op traitor game I was prepping for a Gamecrafter contest called Space Station 13Z: Nanoswarm Deception that I will probably complete after Wizard's WARdrobe. Another current project in early prototype stage is a VR game where you're a samurai with a bow and 2 swords and are fending off endless waves of ninjas in various settings.
My main goal however, is to release my card-based, modular G-Aim Universal gaming system that I have been developing for both digital and tabletop for over 15 years. It can play any type of game (RPG, board, card, deck building, trivia, you name it) in any setting (modern, historic, sci fi, fantasy, etc). Sound ambitious? It is, but it is already operational with 2 worlds (one alternate Earth and another entirely new world unlike anyone has ever seen) that I have storyboarded epic sagas for already, I just lack the resources (so far) to execute it.
Have you designed any games that have been published?
Yes, Symetra Visionary Strategy Card Game.
What is your day job?
I work at one of the last best video stores with over 25,000 titles, Sid's Vids. I also am the local tournament organizer for Wizards of the Coast & Magic out of that store. I also teach martial arts & meditation, do website & graphic design, and drafting for a sustainable building design company. Feel tired yet? :)
Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.
Where do you prefer to play games?
My awesome, beachfront house overlooking the ocean. We have enough for 20+ players on 4+ tables.
Who do you normally game with?
I have quite a large gaming group that I have met through running Magic the Gathering tournaments locally. Many of these players have become good friends and playtesters.
If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Currently, and rightly so, we are obsessed with Wizard's WARdrobe, but we usually have multiple tables going, and everyone brings games with them. So hard to say but I'll list some of my favs: Mage Wars (yes, wizards battling again), Heroscape, Clever (for fast game), Illuminati, Lords of Waterdeep, various RPGs, X-Wing, 3 Dragon Ante, and Symetra, still developing new formats.
And what snacks would you eat?
Usually my girlfriend cooks up something fantastic. Pizza is a go to, cheesy savoury scones as well.
Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Not usually, but sometimes. We might set it to some mood music for an RPG, or just some light ambient.
What's your favorite FLGS?
Sid's Vids! Ok, that's bias. Magic Stronghold and House of Cards (Abbotsford).
What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Current favorite is either Mage Wars or Illuminati. I still enjoy Betrayal, but some games end up being so wacky that they are non-games, and I don't like that in game design. Worst game... geez, snakes and ladders?
What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I like action point allocation with lots of variable powers. Least favorite would be roll-to-move/get actions.
What's your favorite game that you just can't ever seem to get to the table?
Probably Heroscape, or some others minis game with lots of setup (ie using my massive Heroscape terrain collection).
What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, RPG Games, Video Games
Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, RPG Games, Video 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?
Depends on the game. Symetra was mechanics first and Wizard's WARdrobe was an entirely top-down designed game.
Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I have entered 1 so far with Wizard's WARdrobe and I got 7th when the cut off for finalists was 6 :'( maybe someone will drop?! :) Entering the Cardboard Edison one as well.
Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
True creativity (that is non-derivative) can only come when one taps into an altered state of consciousness with a perspective other than your current. Late night meditation is what works best for me.
How do you go about playtesting your games?
I play them first with my main co-designer Justin in ragged, mis-shaped card stock form first. To see if there is a seed of fun there worth cultivating. Then I go right away to a printed (but no or low art) version by using sticker paper on old Magic cards. Then this I grind through a couple dozen, hard, competitive Magic players who wreck it. I fix it and run it through again until we are completing, full, fun, balanced games.
Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I do a lot of the work myself as far as the bulk of design and graphic work, but I do hire an editor, and I have co-designer friends that chip in and try to break the game. I also hire artists when needed, as that is not my specialty. I will hire an artist for the cover (Chris Rallis) and for the in-game art that I don't have time for.
What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Resources. If I had more resources I could be working full time as a game designer pumping out multiple tabletop games a year and a video game here and there too.
If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Hm, there are a lot of good ones, but Babylon 5 comes to mind. There were a few game attempts, but it deserves more, being the best Sci Fi show of all time.
What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Start small, and basic. Low numbers and simplicity as a foundation, and build on top of that the layers of complexity once the foundation is solid.
What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Judge the fun (and therefore the greatness of your game) by the volume level and excitement of the players. If players are laughing and shouting, you're on to something. If they're not you need to rethink or drop the project.
I don't mean that the players would be loud and excited the WHOLE time. That's unnatural (lower sugar intake). However, in the tense, crescendo moments, if they aren't openly excited, that 'probably' means they don't care that much about what's happening. When people care about something they get boisterous, and if they don't care about the game, it isn't working.
Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Symetra: Visionary Strategy Card Game
This is what I have currently crowdfunding: Wizard's WARdrobe
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Wizard's WARdrobe
Games that I'm playtesting are: G-Aim System Games (first sets are the Travelers set (of characters who travel between Earth: Evocalypse and Orbworld) and Versus sets, all your basic settings in skirmish sets: modern (military, etc), historic (samurai, pirates), sci fi (aliens, robots), and fantasy (elves, wizards, dragons, etc).
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Space Station 13Z, U.F.Olympics,
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Too many to list. Haha :)
Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker's Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
I'm a member of just about all of them :)
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?
I'd have to go with Star Wars since I saw A New Hope while in my pregnant mother's belly. Although this is changing, as I'm getting less and less interested in purely action sci fi (barely sci fi IMO fighting on a planet in the future, is still just fighting). I also think both franchises are overrated, there is much better sci fi out there.
What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Healing and martial arts. Video games. Sustainable technology and housing.
What is something you learned in the last week?
An escape from fully mounted position (one of the worst positions to be in in fighting).
Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
I listen to mostly electronic music, but not repetitive crap, more advanced stuff like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Wagon Christ, other Warp & Ninjatune artists. My favourite band of all time is Tool though. By far.
I like though-provoking, and reality-questioning sci fi books and film.
What was the last book you read?
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones again (best book of all time, if I could keep just one book this would be it)
Do you play any musical instruments?
Not really... other than the recorder in school, Mrdang drums and tamboura. But I made a short album of concept songs once on Garage Band :)
Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I trained with a Chinese martial arts and medicine master for the last 10 years of his life. I'm one of the few people that can teach his unique style of mixed martial arts, and the only one he allowed to pass on his family's special eagle-style medical qi gong.
Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
In the late 90s' early 00's, I used to go with friends to bars to get into fights and test our fighting skills. I'm not proud of it, and if I had of met myself the way I am now, I would've kicked my ass badly! I was lucky I didn't meet someone of my current skill back then!
Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Hm. Can't think of one off the top of my head... I'm sure there is one...
Who is your idol?
Maynard James Keenan, Joe Rogan, Alex Grey, Ken Wilbur, Elon Musk.
What would you do if you had a time machine?
Go back and win a big lottery so I can fund many games and films :)
Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Every time I do meyers-briggs I show up as 0-1% one or the other. So a perfect balance I guess. I do need to be alone to charge my battery though.
If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Have any pets?
My cat Ganesh.
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've got a nice big collection of games, and minis, and terrain, combined with my own game designs, I'll be fine for entertainment. Magic would be a nice community continuation if possible. Internet would be nice.
Hollywood, bank/corporate-controlled-governments, and violent people can all go as far as I'm concerned :)
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):
Sunshine Coast Magic Community! You guys rock!
Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?
No, that was pretty thorough. I'm always up for more questions if and when you have em :)
(As to where my games can be played) I have a PnP for Wizard's WARdrobe available on the website. And both WARdrobe and Symetra digitally on Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia soon as well.
And don't forget to check out Wizard's WARdrobe on Kickstarter now!
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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