Tuesday, June 13, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 74: Shannon Kelly

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:Shannon Kelly
Location:Sydney, Australia
Day Job:As this interview comes out, I will have just left my long-time job in legal publishing to work as a full-time editor in trade publishing.
Designing:Over ten years!
Facebook:Fox Tale Games/
YouTube:Fox Tae Games
Find my games at:You can play Lucidity: Six-sided Nightmares now on Tabletopia: Lucidity: Six Sided Nightmares

It is on Kickstarter now, then after on my website. You can join my mailing list (through the website or just email me) to get Print and Play files when they become available.
Today's Interview is with:

Shannon Kelly
Interviewed on: 5/14/2017

Yesterday I posted my review of Lucidity Six Sided Nightmares, which launched on Kickstarter today. It's a really fun, somewhat strategic press-your-luck game with a great theme. I had a really great time playtesting and reviewing the game and throughout that process got to meet the designer, Shannon Kelly. Shannon is in Australia, so we often chatted when he was waking up and I was going to bed, or vice versa. If you'd like to learn more about Shannon and the other projects he's working on, read on!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Over ten years!

Why did you start designing tabletop games?

My first game was for a school project in Grade 5 (primary school). My teachers gave us the option to complete an assignment on our solar system by creating a board game. In the end, about ten of us picked that option and we had a whole day where the different classes came through and played all of the games. My parents really helped with the board construction, right down to taking one of those "I'm so excited to be playing this!" photographs that you used to see on 80s game boxes.

I still pull that roll and move trivia game out sometimes, and we laugh at how incredibly unbalanced and unfair it is.

What game or games are you currently working on?
A few right now - as is probably the case for many designers.

Lucidity: Six-sided Nightmares (and its sequel Six-sided Spellbooks) are the most advanced, with 6SN on Kickstarter right now! The sequel is a lot more of a puzzle game, so it takes a lot more testing to get right.

Tempest: Shards of the Gods is sitting on ice at the moment, after 4 years of working on it. It has been through quite a few redesigns already. I'm convinced there is something in it (a game of mythology and history where you can play through those stories to win) but it hasn't quite clicked yet.

Velvet is also being worked on right now. It's a "plush-your-luck" game of stuffed animals and dungeon delving. I'm pretty excited about this one. It's been developed specifically to be given away in showbags at conventions, and it's getting published at PAX Aus this year through the Tabletop Game Designers Australia.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Lucidity 6SN is my first to be published (fingers crossed).

What is your day job?
As this interview comes out, I will have just left my long-time job in legal publishing to work as a full-time editor in trade publishing.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
With friends, at somebody's house, with music playing and a drink in hand.

Who do you normally game with?
Friends mostly. A weekly designer playtesting group also.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
These days, probably Gloomhaven or Pandemic Legacy. (If you aren't counting Dungeons & Dragons.) It's funny, but those ongoing campaign games are really good at getting us to agree to put life aside to take a day off to play.

And what snacks would you eat?
I'm pretty bad when it comes to snacks at games days. I'm not a big soft drink drinker, or eater of chips, and I usually prefer water or sparkling water. But when we all get together, I cannot resist the siren song of coke and grain waves.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Yeah! We usually have something thematic going on. Usually something by Hans Zimmer, like the Sherlock Holmes (the Downey Jr one) or the Dark Knight soundtrack.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
I live out in the sticks of Sydney, without a lot of public transport, and getting home quite late. So for me, the idea of converging on an FLGS for gaming has never really been the ideal. If I had to pick, I'd go with Games Empire. They had a store near my university, and then moved to a place closer to my house.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Current favourite: Gloomhaven. Fantastic, challenging, Legacy-lite. Just an all-round brilliant game. If you'd asked me that a year ago, I'd have said Android: Netrunner. But I've fallen behind on the meta for that one and can't get back into it.

Least favourite that I still enjoy: It's a toss-up between Vast: The Crystal Caverns and Star Wars Destiny. Vast is such an ambitious game, and really awesome design. The asymmetric gameplay is very cool. But it's an absolute pain to teach, and clunky to play because of all of the interactions. SW Destiny is a really well-designed game, but I get so frustrated by any game that plays like a strategic competitive card game and then relies entirely on a good dice roll.

Worst game I ever played? It's hard to throw shade as a designer, because you know how much work goes into game design. To rephrase the question, the game that clicked the least for me was the Lord of the Rings LCG. That doesn't mean it was the worst (on the contrary, it's really well-designed), but I was expecting the thematic tones that the Arkham Horror LCG gave, and instead got a puzzle game of trying to build a perfect deck/team to overcome a specific obstacle.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I love pool building. Constructing an engine through a game by modifying the tools you use to build it is a brilliant innovation. So whether it is card-crafting, deck-building, dice-forging or tokens in bags, I love it.

My least favourite mechanic is probably "end of game scoring". A lot of Euros do this. The game comes to a conclusion somehow, and you go through one by one, saying, "Okay, now count up your total flags; now your total garbage; who loses points from having more weasels in their garage?" It isn't a tense race to the finish because you have no idea who is winning until the final count-down. When you win (thinking you were losing), it isn't satisfying and feels like you stole victory. When you lose (thinking you were winning), it's disappointing and you feel cheated. And with a quick game like 4 Gods, scoring can sometimes take as long as the game. And so much maths!

By contrast, I love a game like Kingsburg that scores along the way and has very little end of game scoring.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Android: Netrunner LCG for sure. As I mentioned earlier, I fell out of the meta after the first data cycle. And when that happened, I couldn't get back into it easily. It also didn't catch on with my personal gaming circles, so I ended up being the only one of my friends to play it.

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

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
Yes. On the one hand, I get what Shut Up and Sit Down criticise it for. It is a mean game that inspires all the negative, taboo "-ism"s to be freely spoken. But it's also a game about reading and knowing your friends. If a friend goes for the dick joke, you play the dick joke. If they go for the clever pun, you would be wasting a dick joke on them. I think any game that enters mainstream and draws players into board gaming (without necessarily representing "this is who we are" to the wider community) is a worthwhile game. Say what you will about idea theft, dick jokes worked where Apples to Apples didn't.

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?
A bit of a mix, I think. I begin with a high mechanics concept like "push-your-luck deckbuilder" or "storytelling CCG" and then look for a broad theme to embody that concept. Then I go back to the mechanics and make something that is fun. All the while, I refer back to the theme and try to fit it into the mechanics, or see if mechanics work thematically.

At the end, I find that I am rewriting the theme at the table, or A/B testing it with different playtesting groups to see what clicks better.

Mechanics are great. Theme is wonderful. But "fun" has to come first.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Yes! Only just recently though. I am currently in the process of redesigning Velvet (a light game designed to be put in showbags) for PAX Australia 2017.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Ryan Laukat is my idol. He does art, design, business... everything. He has a unique art style, a unique design style, and runs his own business. In an interview he did for Tabletopia, he mentioned the design and development for Eight Minute Empire, and how he happened to be ill and unable to go to work one week - so he designed and illustrated the whole game in a week and launched it on Kickstarter the week after. Amazing and inspiring doesn't quite cut it.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Often I'll let my brain stew on something for a while until pieces fall into place. I'm inspired a lot by video games too.

Orson Scott Card wrote in "How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy" that you need to throw away your first idea, because your brain fits that idea together from scraps in day-to-day life, like a dream. It isn't original. It isn't until you let that idea process and sit in your mind that your brain begins piecing together ideas from your pieced together ideas. And even that isn't truly original. But once your brain scraps those ideas into shards, it has all of these original ideas to draw from and create something new.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I will often test them in my brain first. I let the idea sit in the back of my mind at work, or over a weekend, playing itself in different iterations. When I think I have something functional, I will put it to paper in MS Word. I also like to do basic graphic design early, to help my brain figure out what will work on paper best.

Then I'll play it with my close friends and see what they think. I focus on what they like, and see where they struggle. I'll let it go back into my head again (for hours, days or sometimes months) until it clicks and I bring it back out for a wider playtest.

I don't think scientifically or logically very well, so a lot of my design is intuitive: What worked? What didn't? I often change things in broad strokes instead of testing minute changes.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I love working with artists and graphic designers, because they are so creative, in such a different way to me!

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Committing to an idea too early and wasting time or money on it.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
I would want to design something in Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere. A game with shards of long-dead gods, magic systems with specific rules. He writes like a board game designer. I think his worlds deserve more attention.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
You don't have to self-publish.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Share early and share often. Nobody is going to steal your idea and, if they are, then everyone will know it was yours first.

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: 1: "Velvet" (2: "Lucidity: Six-sided Nightmares" as of 18 July 2017 if the KS works)
This is what I have currently crowdfunding: 1: "Lucidity: Six-sided Nightmares" as of today!
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: 1: "Lucidity: Six-sided Nightmares"
Games that I'm playtesting are: 2: "Six-sided Spellbooks", "Velvet"
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: 1: "Tempest: Shards of the Gods"
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: 2: "Creation", "Tower Trouble"

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Tabletop Game Designers Australia, Tabletop Game Publisher's Guild, Card & Board Game Designers Guild

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 Wars (fantasy in space), Coke, VHS

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Books (reading/writing), video games.

What is something you learned in the last week?
You can use the @ in Facebook replies to tag a specific page, not just a specific person.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
A good Bluegrass cover of a pop song.
[GJJ Games] If you like Bluegrass, check out Sweetwater String Band! They’re trying to fund their third album on Kickstarter right now. They just did an interesting cover of Nirvana’s All Apologies

What was the last book you read?
"A Crowdfunder's Strategy Guide" by Jamey Stegmaier. But in the fiction world, "The Daylight War" by Peter V Brett. I also read the online book, "The Gods are Bastards" by DD Webb which I hiiiiighly recommend to any Dungeons & Dragons fans.

Do you play any musical instruments?
I can badly play guitar, violin, piano.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I actually really like dubstep music.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Got a tattoo. Still waiting on the right picture to get a second one.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Taking two years extra at university. It slowed down my career, but it also strengthened my resolve for what I wanted to do in life, and let me meet my partner.

Who is your idol?
Brandon Sanderson - He puts out book after book of quality content. The man is a writing machine, and a literary professor.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Not worry about the little things in life.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Squirrel Girl - She kicks butts and eats nuts. She's beaten Galactus, Dr Doom and others through her wits. And she is currently going to university to learn computer science. Probably the most interesting hero out there.

(Incidentally, my favourite is Invincible. But so much bad stuff happens to him that I wouldn't trade my life for his!)

Have any pets?
One cat named Sprite (she is white as a ghost and we found her under a coke machine).

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 really hope deckbuilding or poolbuilding survives in some form. I think tokens in a bag is a robust enough mechanic to work in a Horizon: Zero Dawn world.

I hope that asteroid falls specifically on... well, I don't actually hate anything or anyone enough to desire that for them.

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):
Big thanks to Kim Brebach from Good Games Publishing!

If you're not Australian then you probably don't know this, but Kim volunteers a LOT to help new designers and publishers here in Aus. He dedicates a lot of his time to helping the community, for no real gain on his part. We are all better off for his advice.

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

Thanks for taking an interest in this (possibly) lengthy interview! :)

It is always humbling for you to take any interest in me at all. I'll never be too big to feel honoured to be contacted by you, even if just to say hello.

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

Did you like this interview?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

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