Tuesday, June 19, 2018

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 125: Gabriel Cohn

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:Gabriel Cohn
Location:Santa Cruz, CA
Day Job:Teacher. Currently: 7th Grade History
Designing:Five to ten years.
BGG:gabrielcohn or the Exodus Fleet page
Find my games at:Amazon, CoolStuff, Miniature Market, etc.
Today's Interview is with:

Gabriel Cohn
Interviewed on: 2/11/2018

Today's interview is with Gabriel Cohn, who just had his first game published last year. Exodus Fleet was published by Tasty Minstrel Games and has gotten pretty good reviews. He's working on a slew of other games that will hopefully be published soon, too. So keep your eye out for some great new titles coming from Gabriel in the future!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Five to ten years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
After moving to North Carolina, I found myself with more time and fewer friends than I'd had before, so I figured out that working out the issues of game design was a way to keep "playing" games even by myself. The loneliness didn't last long, but the desire to keep designing stuck.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Lots are on the shelf in a half-done state. Mostly I'm working on getting Orbital Architects and Divine Intervention out the door as both have agreements to get them published.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Exodus Fleet (Tasty Minstrel Games, 2017).

What is your day job?
Teacher. Currently: 7th Grade History

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
Anywhere. Home, friends' place, restaurant, cafe, convention, etc. Doesn't matter.

Who do you normally game with?
Lots with my wife. I also have a regular group (usually about 10 people) that meets Monday nights at a pizza place, and I often get together with those folks at other times too.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Anything, really. But I lean towards mid-heavy euros. Agricola, Tzolk'in, Puerto Rico, Amun Re, Orleans, etc. are some of my favorites. But, I also love some other things: Can't Stop, Diamant, Robo Rally, etc. can be great with the right crowd.

And what snacks would you eat?
Depends. Often nothing. But I do have a soft spot for salt and pepper potato chips. Also, anything with sugar. Really. Anything.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
At my house, yes. But most of my friends don't have it. Either way is fine as long as it's not too loud. I have reasonably eclectic tastes. Some of my current (and long time) favorite groups: Living Colour, Stars, Cub Country, NewOrder, Bomba Estereo, Arcade Fire, Mary Lou Lord, Rage Against the Machine, The English Beat, etc. If I have time to think about it, I try to aim for more mellow stuff when playing games. Rage Against the Machine is just too intense when you're doing the math of Terraforming Mars at the same time...

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Not super-stoked about the options in Santa Cruz. There are great ones elsewhere in the Bay Area: Games of Berkeley, Game Kastle, etc. I miss Parker, Banner, Kent, and Wayne from when I lived in North Carolina. Nice space. Good people.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Agricola was the one that really got me hooked and is still my "favorite." But I'd probably play Tzolk'in over that given the choice. Or a handful of others. I still have a soft spot for Robo Rally despite it being long and silly--but I really only would play it with my closest friends, not just anyone. Worst game ever: I don't know. But there is one I designed that literally was only played once. I was quite happy with the first playtest, but my wife ripped it to shreds. She might call that one the worst ever...

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I'm agnostic. I do like a lot of worker placement games, but not because I think the mechanism is amazing, but just b/c they work nicely. I like any game that keeps players interested throughout the game. Whatever mechanism works for your game is the right one.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Homesteaders. No one ever wants to play it. Most of them have never tried it. But some scare easily at the idea of auctions and others just don't want to learn something new. (That said, it's not my favorite or anything--just one I like that I have trouble getting people to play.)

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

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
Only if it's the only option. And only with friends, not random strangers.

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?
Both? It can happen either way. For a long time it was theme first every time, as I built several games loosely in the same universe. But, sometimes I have a mechanism idea and I let it roll around in my head until I figure out a theme to match. And once I have both, they organically work on each other to alter the overall game.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Nope. Lots I like.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Best time: backpacking trips. Days of walking with nothing to do but say "wow" over and over (b/c the Sierras are freakin' beautiful!). Lots of time to work out mechanisms in my head. If I'm lucky, I have a scrap of paper and a pencil in my map bag to write ideas down on before going to sleep.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
By myself first. Then with my wife. Then with friends. Then at Protospiel. Then lots more. It's an iterative process. And for any game I'm serious about, hundreds of playtests--lots with the same group repeatedly and lots with random strangers.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
Mostly alone, but I have some friends who are very insightful.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Finding the time. My job keeps me busy.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Not interested. I like to come up with my own worlds.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
I feel like there's plenty of good advice out there. I read it all and continue to do so. So, no regrets here.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Read. Get on the relevant facebook groups (Card and Board Game Designers) and bulletin-board style sites (BGG, etc.). Ask questions. Go to Protospiel events. Listen to other designers. Playtest a ton.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Exodus Fleet
Games that will soon be published are: Orbital Architects, Divine Intervention
Currently looking for a publisher I have: Fives
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Orbital Architects, Divine Intervention
Games that I'm playtesting are: Children of Frankenstein, The Underminister
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Crash Landing, some others with no names.
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Several. They don't have names.

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

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, but more passion for Star Wars.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Backpacking, Rock Climbing (mostly in the gym), Social Justice Activism

What is something you learned in the last week?
I learned that Rosa Parks was involved a campaign around sexual assault against African American women for several years before she became famous for helping launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Already answered about music. Books: SciFi/Fantasy, tending towards the higher brow stuff, but not exclusively. Movies: SciFi/SuperHeroes/etc.--I'm a big fan of the current run of Marvel movies and loving the new Star Wars ones too.

What was the last book you read?
Currently reading: Guy Gavriel Kay's Children of Earth and Sky

Do you play any musical instruments?
I tried. I failed.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I don't run the games club at my school. Someone else does. They play all the games I love. But I'm too busy with the other stuff I do with students: Feminist Coalition, Diversity Club, Gay Straight Alliance, etc.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I got arrested protesting at the Republican National Convention in 2004. Come to think of it, that wasn't crazy at all. And, everyone admits I shouldn't have been arrested. That's why the city of New York paid me a big settlement. All in all, the most well-paid 44 hours of work I've ever done.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Wait, that's what I just answered on the previous question. (Though, someday I hope the answer to this is the day I mispronounced Carcassonne as "Carcass Zone" launching my zombie/Carcassonne crossover idea. Still in development.)

Who is your idol?
I don't know. Howard Zinn is pretty cool. For today, let's say him.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Lots. Too much to say. I love history. I want to see everything.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Extrovert. Absolutely. My wife is an introvert--thus I play a lot of 2pl games.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
I'm flexible. But I find the more speedy/agile ones more interesting than the brawny. And Superman is downright boring.

Have any pets?
2 cats. Earthquake and Tephra. They're the best.

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?
Honestly, I love board games, but I'm much more worried about other ideas that will or won't survive.

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):
No one in particular. The people who've helped me along the way know who they are. Thanks to them.

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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