Tuesday, May 1, 2018

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 118: Adam JJ Rausch

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. Support me on Patreon!

Name:Adam JJ Rausch
Location:Fremont, CA
Day Job:I'm a Research and Development Engineer at UC Berkeley, focused on drinking water in the developing world.
Designing:Over ten years!
Facebook:Adam J J Rausch
Find my games at:Given my lack of focus on commercialization, I haven't put a lot of material forward, and my media outlets are not game-focused. However, if there is interest, I'm quite happy to port stuff to a PnP format and make it available. Email me.
Today's Interview is with:

Adam JJ Rausch
Interviewed on: 2/7/2018

This week we get to meet designer Adam JJ Rausch, who has been designing games since he was a kid. He prefers to make games for his own enjoyment, so hasn't pursued publishing, even though he has tons of in-progress and finished designs. If you'd like to try out something of his, reach out and he might be able to make a PnP version of one of his games. Read on to learn more about Adam and his variety of projects.

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?
I remember being on a rooftop in rural Morocco, watching several children create a game about moving stones between five holes they had dug in the ground. I was trying to decipher the rules when I realized they were still making them up. When we are young, we invent games without thinking about it. It's universal, almost as native as telling stories. When I look back, I don't think I started making tabletop games; I simply didn't stop doing it. I see an almost unbroken line from the simple games my sister and I made as a child to the tabletop games I make now.

What game or games are you currently working on?
So many. Not My Monkeys is a frenetic co-op game about assigning zoo staff to compatible animals and tasks. Don't Count Your Dragons is a negotiation and deduction game about trading dragon eggs in the Himalayas. Council of Florence is a game about projected power, political timing, and playing your opponents against each other. Paranoia focuses on deducing the motives of opponents. Starlight Empire looks like worker-placement but hinges secret ballots. That's about half of what I consider current.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
I've never pursued publication. I'm concerned that what has been a great creative outlet for me for decades will begin to feel like an obligation. Of course, that could just be what I tell myself.

What is your day job?
I'm a Research and Development Engineer at UC Berkeley, focused on drinking water in the developing world.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
A clean, well-lighted place. Honestly, the place is not nearly as important as the people playing.

Who do you normally game with?
Like I said, I think games are pretty universal. When I lived in India, I found traditional games I'd never seen before, and I found people playing Settlers. These days, my family is wonderful for playing games, but I have a few circles of friends in the area too. Strangers are usually fine. The primary goal is that they be "not jerks," and most people qualify.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Game night isn't one thing for me; it totally depends on the friends. Depending on the group, I could imagine suggesting Concept, Zendo, poker, or a COIN game. Of course, I'll always have a desire to test one of mine.

And what snacks would you eat?
This, too, is highly variable. That said, cookies seem to happen a lot.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
That's an interesting question. If it's instrumental and I like it, I think I would almost never object. Sometimes, lyrics can get in the way. Sometimes it can add to the experience. I once wrote a game that was meant to be played to a specific album. On the other hand, I have a friend who is easily distracted. If he's playing, we should probably turn it off.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
I like It's Your Move in Oakland. They are all about fostering the community there.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Current favorite: Hanamikoji has some really elegant play. Least favorite that I still enjoy: There is also a class of game that seem like visual-spatial reasoning tests in disguise (Ricochet Robots, Galaxy Trucker). Playing those types of games against David Powell, specifically, is my least favorite game that I still enjoy. I'm pretty good at them, but he is just better. I will never win, but have no desire to stop playing him. Worst game: I think it was called Therapy or something. This was probably 20 years ago. We had to answer questions about each other, and at one point, we realized we could trap opponents by intentionally guessing the wrong answer.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
My favorite game mechanic is the one I've never seen before. If I'm making a game and I realize it doesn't have a novel mechanic, I scrap it. Least favorite: victory points that don't mean anything obvious in the context of the flavor.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
This seems to happen with longish, complex games like Eclipse and Twilight Struggle. But this probably applies to Baron Munchausen too. I like storytelling games, but the less structure the game has, the more social courage they require. Getting a whole group of people together who are fearless in front of each other is a rarity.

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

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

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
Short answer: no. I played CAH long before it came out, because some friends of mine got the idea of giving everyone a Sharpie and permission to modify cards when we played Apples to Apples. It quickly became CAH, but with an infinite supply of cards. Then the official CAH came out and ruined it by making half of their cards black (and hence, immune to alteration via Sharpie).

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?
It's gone both ways. Some of my most interesting games have started with a challenge: I notice something that humans aren't very good at (say, contingent probabilities), and build a mechanic around that. Occasionally, both theme and mechanics have come to me nearly simultaneously.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I have never entered a game design competition.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I've enjoyed pretty much everything I've played from Vlaada Chvatil, a feat made more impressive because his designs are so varied. Jamey Stegmaier has a good record too.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
There is a moment when I see an intriguing new game, and I look at it just enough to think I know how the play works. I'm invariably wrong about the game I'm looking at, but my initial theory is often both novel and viable. I've built a lot of games that began as how I thought Game X was going to work, and a few that began as how I wished Game Y worked.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
It's changed a lot. I used to test games alone before I brought it to people, but I don't any more. My first drafts usually work well enough now that they at least don't annoy the players.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I'm working with someone now for the first time in a long time. It's going well.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Trying to retain focus on the current project when there are a handful of new ideas on the periphery, beckoning.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
I can't say that working within another person's creation usually holds much appeal to me. I could imagine a game themed on Borges' Library of Babel, like how Mystery of the Abbey is themed on Name of the Rose.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
A while back, I was speaking with the maker of a well-known game. I mentioned it was a bit of a coup that he had been able to make a living as a game designer. He corrected me: he said he made a living as the designer of that one well-known game. Nothing else he had published provided a substantive contribution. He said that when he was developing the game, it was the only game any of his friends ever wanted to play. They hounded him. He told me that if that ever happens, consider publishing. I could have heard that earlier. It gave me permission to not pursue publication.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
I am not wise like that. Do what you enjoy about it.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: about a dozen
Games that I'm playtesting are: about twenty
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: about thirty
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: about fifty

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Card and Board Game Developers Guild, Game Maker's Lab, Art & Graphic Design for Tabletop Games, Consortium of Game Developers

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 am grateful that the universe is such that I can experience both Star Trek and Star Wars on neither VHS nor Betamax.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Sailing is probably in second place.

What is something you learned in the last week?
My two and a half year old son is officially capable of tricking me.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Music: Zoe Keating. I'm not sure she has a well-defined type. Books: My work involves a lot of reading, so non-work reading is pretty escapist, creative, fantastic. Movies: Mysteries, heists, epics...

What was the last book you read?
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Do you play any musical instruments?
Not if you're lucky.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I have had it clarified, in all seriousness, and by an appropriate authority, that I do not have diplomatic immunity.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I traversed from balcony to balcony, on the outside of a hotel building in Barcelona... for love.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Having a child was not an accident, but having the son that we had was certainly nothing we could have planned. He could not be more awesome.

Who is your idol?
I think idolization is dangerous. Thích Nhất Hạnh is pretty high on the list.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Err, almost certainly. Also, who is to say that I don't?

Are you an extrovert or introvert?

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
I have a bit of a nerd blind-spot when it comes to superheroes and comic books. They just weren't part of my childhood, and I've always found the encyclopedic knowledge of my some of my friends to be a bit daunting. I've always been drawn to characters who approach antagonists with kindness. Are there superheroes that do that? Maybe Professor X? Kermit the Frog maybe?

Have any pets?
None currently, but mini schnauzers.

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 think the important thing is that the inclination to create survives. We have made some great things thus far, but I cannot imagine they hold a candle to what we are capable of creating going forward. As long as the drive is there, we will be fine.

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):
A most respectful nod to Irving Leonard Finkel. He's a scholar at the British Museum who has studied ancient language and games. He deciphered the rules for the Royal Game of Ur, and he has an impressive beard.

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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