Tuesday, June 6, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 73: Brandon Beran

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:Brandon Beran
Location:West Bloomfield, Michigan
Day Job:I just recently graduated from college, and I now work as an accountant (which is my field of study). The bills don’t pay themselves!
Designing:Two to five years.
Find my games at:Board Game Geek
Today's Interview is with:

Brandon Beran
Interviewed on: 5/9/2017

Launching on Kickstarter today is a game called Pocket Ops (look for my review coming very soon). Brandon Beran is the designer of Pocket Ops and he did a good job of taking one of the more boring games, Tic-Tac-Toe, and turning it into something that plays well, complete with deduction, bluffing, and strategy. It's a great way to make an old game interesting and new again. If you're interested in learning more about Brandon and some of the other stuff he's working on, read on!

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?
When I discovered how great board games are nowadays, I started getting my own ideas for games I’d like to play. Since some of those games don’t exist, I decided to try to make them myself. I think tabletop game design is a great fit for me personally because I am a bit of an idea guy and there is very little overhead to making a board game idea a reality. Elaborating on that statement: unlike video game design, for example, where you need another concrete skill such as programming, tabletop game design is mostly about having a good idea that you turn into a good set of rules through playtesting. The design process is much more abstract.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I have several projects in various stages of development. I tend to jump around between different designs. Not necessarily the best way to do it, but that’s how my brain works. I get excited by different projects at different times.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Pocket Ops is being published by Grand Gamers Guild! I’m very excited to see my first game hit Kickstarter, and I hope that eventually I’ll have another game to follow it.

What is your day job?
I just recently graduated from college, and I now work as an accountant (which is my field of study). The bills don’t pay themselves!

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
Wherever the games are!

Who do you normally game with?
My girlfriend is my main gaming partner. I rarely play games without her. We sometimes play with my family or her family, and we also try to attend board game meetups in our area.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Since most of my friends are not gamers, we would probably play a lighter game like Bohnanza or Codenames.

And what snacks would you eat?
Non-greasy snacks are fine. Anything else and I will probably call for a break while people eat. Especially if the game is mine!

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I don’t typically listen to music while playing games. Music tends to distract me and, especially if the game is heavy, I prefer to be focused so that I don’t make any mistakes (aside from the ones I’d make anyway).

What’s your favorite FLGS?
I don’t typically shop at FLGSs (none really in my area) but I'm partial to Vault of Midnight in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It’s a pretty neat store with a basement full of board games for sale.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
My current favorite game is probably The Great Zimbabwe. It's a wonderful brain-burner of a game. “Least favorite that I still enjoy” is a tougher one. I’d probably say Ticket to Ride for this category. I still enjoy playing it but I’d probably never suggest it. In terms of the “worst game I’ve ever played,” I’m going to rename this category to “game I most dislike,” because everyone looks for different things out of games. The game I most dislike is Talisman. I couldn’t get into it because I’m not much of a role-playing guy, and the game really dragged because of that.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
My favorite game mechanic is probably Area Control / Area Influence. I really enjoy games with high player interaction, and area control games naturally tend to excel in that category. My least favorite mechanic is probably Dice Rolling. Yes, I know, that’s a pretty large category to dislike. I generally dislike randomness in games, but when randomness is important to a design, I much prefer random card draws to random dice rolls. I think I only own 2 games (out of about 30) that include dice rolling: Dark Moon and Survive: Escape from Atlantis.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Every heavy game I own. This is why one of my main questions when purchasing a heavier game is, “Does this play well with 2?”

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Video 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?
I’ll probably play if someone else brings it out, but not for a whole night.

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?
I rarely come up with a theme first. I tend to think about board games in terms of mechanics, and naturally that carries over into design. I'm definitely more inspired by a cleverly designed game than a thematically interesting one.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I have never entered a game design competition, but I would definitely like to someday.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
My current favorite game designers are probably Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga of Splotten Spellen, the designers of Food Chain Magnate, The Great Zimbabwe, Roads & Boats, and others. I really admire the ambition and creativity of their designs.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
My inspiration comes primarily from two places. The first place is the creativity of other designs. When I see another designer do something unique or clever with a mechanic, it inspires me to also find the design space within mechanics that has not been explored yet. The second place, on the flipside, is the failure of some designs. When I play a game that is close to a game I would enjoy but falls short in some aspects (even just in my opinion, not necessarily objectively), it inspires me to create a game that fits my image of what that game “should have been.”

How do you go about playtesting your games?
For any given game, I first run through it myself to make sure there are no glaring flaws. Then I generally rope my girlfriend into playtesting with me. If that goes well, I will bring the game to one of the design meetups I attend to get valuable feedback from other designers. From there, if I feel confident about the design, I will try to start bringing it to conventions to playtest with as wide of an audience as possible.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I have only worked alone so far but that’s not entirely by choice. I would be open to collaborating with others on designs in the future, although I’m not familiar with doing that.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
My biggest challenge right now is coming up with designs that are more than just “okay.” It’s relatively easy for me to come up with games that “work” mechanically, but most of those games simply aren’t that great and ultimately end up abandoned. It can be disheartening, and I'm sometimes tempted to give up on designs that have legitimate potential out of fear that they will end up only "okay."

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Don’t be afraid of failure. You should prototype an idea as soon as possible because it’s really the only way to know if an idea has potential. But I’d say that the majority of designs don’t end up working out, so you’ll be failing a lot in a short period of time if you have a lot of ideas. Don’t give up; it only gets easier to design the more you do it.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
This is what I have currently crowdfunding: Pocket Ops - a light 2-player bluffing/deduction game inspired by Tic-Tac-Toe, being published by Grand Gamers Guild and coming to Kickstarter June 6
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Manor Panic - a real-time, co-operative tile-laying game
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Just a few.
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Too many!

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?
Star Trek or Star Wars: Why not both? Coke or Pepsi: I’m not much of a soda drinker. My incredibly boring answer is: Water. VHS or Betamax: Well, I only ever had VHS, and that was when I was a child, so I’ll probably have to go with VHS.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Favorite type of music: Metal. Books: Don’t really have a favorite genre. Movies: I enjoy action movies, family movies, and drama/suspense movies.

What was the last book you read?
The last book I read was Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. It started off pretty slow but I was enjoying it by the end, even though I would not call it a “happy” book.

Do you play any musical instruments?
I play guitar. See: my favorite type of music.

Have any pets?
My girlfriend and I recently adopted a cat from the animal shelter. Her name is Joy. : )

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):
Hi Karen! I'm famous now!

Thanks for answering all my crazy questions!

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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