Tuesday, July 17, 2018

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 129: Daniel Chou

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:Daniel Chou
Day Job:I work as an administrator at a higher education institution.
Designing:Two to five years.
Facebook:CHOU Games
YouTube:Security Council Game
Find my games at:www.CHOU-Games.com, The Game Crafter, and BGG.
Today's Interview is with:

Daniel Chou
Interviewed on: 6/14/2018

Daniel Chou is a multi-talented individual. Not only does he design games, he also does podcasts, designs t-shirts, and more! He's self-published a number of games through CHOU Games and will be running a Kickstarter for Scavenge next week. So be sure to keep your eye out for more of Dan's games in the future!

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?
I began designing tabletop games back in 2013 with my first big-box game, Security Council. I began designing that game so that my friends could play an area control tactical nuclear sim on the tabletop instead of on our computers as there was a similar game we were playing at the time. That game was so well received by our community that I ended up Kickstarting it in 2015 and that has led to over 15 other designs.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I'm working on the second edition of Merchants of Medieval Europe, second edition of Scavenge for a Kickstarter on July 26 (both of which will be at GenCon18), am in late beta with a space exploring rogue called Mini Space Rogue, and in early alpha with a college campus building game called Campus in a Box.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
My studio, CHOU! Games only self publishes at this time so we can have complete control over all our designs. We Kickstarted Security Council in 2015 and have available for sale Merchants of Medieval Europe, Scavenge, Bureau of Time, Behind Closed Doors, and The Roommate Conflict Card Game. I wouldn't be opposed to working with a big publisher. I just have questions as to what we'd give up in the process.

What is your day job?
I work as an administrator at a higher education institution.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
I prefer hosting at home with my community. I invite people to come over and play every week!

Who do you normally game with?
I normally game with a number of my coworkers.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
We love Dominion! I have the Big Box so we play the core set, Prosperity, and Alchemy quite often.

And what snacks would you eat?
My wife is a baker so she'll usually have some sort of fresh sweet treat ready to go like chocolate covered pretzels, truffles with chocolate ganache, or cheesecake.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
On a rare occasion we do turn on tunes. At our last session, we had the Hamilton Soundtrack playing in the background. It's a huge crowd pleaser.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Sadly, our local FLGS is going out of business so that will have to change in the coming year. I guess I alone can't keep them afloat in this town.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
My favorite game that I haven't designed is Dominion. My least favorite game that I still enjoy is Citadel of Time, and the worst game I ever played was a game of Uno a few months ago where there were a high number of custom rules and 12 people playing. It. Never. Ended.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
My favorite game mechanic is hidden objectives and my least favorite is forced bluffing.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Pandemic's expansions! I have the core game and 3 expansions (On the Brink, In the Lab, and State of Emergency) but I have never gotten my group together to play any of the expansions. I recently introduced my group to the core game and that alone was a lot for them so I don't know when we'll be ready for any of the others tacked on.

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, Video Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
In my line of work, Cards Against Humanity causes more harm than fun. With a close group of friends, CAH can generate a few laughs almost entirely and exclusively caused by pushing limits of decency. In almost any other setting, it's either off-putting, insulting, or harmful.

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 have done both. My latest prototype, Campus in a Box, was a theme of running a college campus with dual mechanic goals to be both cooperative but also competitive. I started with the theme and wanted to explore those mechanics second. Theme is almost always first for me.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
My studio has entered before but the best we've achieved so far was as a Finalist in a GameCrafter.com contest for a cooperative game. We tried Cardboard Edison one year and received valuable feedback. Contests are great!

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I'm following Gerald King III on social media, everyone loves Jamey Stegmaier because he's such a nice guy, and I like what Ben Moy is doing.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
My best ideas often come out of nowhere. The best advice I can give is jot down every idea you ever have. Put them on a shelf if you don't have time right now because several years later it may be time. That's what happened with Campus in a Box. It took 3 years for it to begin.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I work at a higher education institution so I have ready access to hundreds of eager playtesters at anytime. I also am a part of a local gaming group. I also use Tabletopia.com to prototype across the country. I have on occasion created Print and Plays and mailed them to friends.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I enjoy brainstorming with a co-designer but ultimately like plowing through the work alone. I do many aspects of a board game including art, design, copy editing, advertising and marketing, playtesting, quality control, contracts, etc.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
My biggest challenge is knowing when a game is ready for publishing. Every play test will present itself with useful feedback (if you know how to ask questions and how to analyze feedback, no small feat). At some point you must decide this is great and it is enough.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
I would love to design a Fallout universe card game about collecting loot, exploring vaults, and blasting irradiated ghouls! There's still time to do one in that genre and just not use the Fallout IP. Who knows?

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Contracts suck to write. Get a lawyer early.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Learn to accept criticism. Playtesting is the most valuable thing you can do for your game. Playtest with as many different people as possible. Thank every playtester for every suggestion and write every single suggestion down. You can throw those away later but at the time of the playtest, every player is a gift. Treat them with respect and reverence. This is how you cultivate a community of playtesters who want to play your games, and you're going to need it.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Security Council: 2-6 player zone-control modular board resource management accessible war game, creates great post-apocalyptic campaigns for 2-3 hours each. Scavenger v1.0: 2-5 player family-friendly press your luck travel sized card game with cute raccoons, takes 15 mins to play. Merchants of Medieval Europe v1.0: 2-6 players become poor merchants and pick up and trade resources across Europe to play the market or fulfill contracts for nobles to earn extra coin, takes 1-2 hours. Bureau of Time: a cooperative 2-4 player card game where you keep the timeline from deteriorating into oblivion while you gather resources to fix anomalies in the time-space continuum, takes about 1/2 hour to play. Behind Closed Doors: a training card game for higher education, our most successful game currently being used in over 100 colleges and universities in the US and Canada. The Roommate Conflict Card Game: A mini conversational game to help college employees to teach mediation techniques.
Games that will soon be published are: Campus in a Box. Mini Space Rogue. Little Pigs. All hopefully ready for publishing within the next year.
This is what I have currently crowdfunding: Scavenge: the family friendly raccoon card game of pressing your luck, will launch on Kickstarter.com on July 26! Join our event to find out as soon as we go live here: https://www.facebook.com/events/440789699701871/
Currently looking for a publisher I have: If someone wants to take Security Council, Merchants of Medieval Europe, or Bureau of Time and we can work out a publishing agreement, then maybe. Otherwise, we are perfectly happy promoting it the way we are.
I'm planning to crowdfund: Merchants of Medieval Europe v2.0 may crowdfund in the next year or two.
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Mini Space Rogue.
Games that I'm playtesting are: Campus in a Box.
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Little Pigs.
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: American Merchants. Martian Tourism. Apocalypse Trail. Praise Zorban. Free Cities. Set the Curve.

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Tabletop Game Publisher's Guild, Board Game Reviewers & Media, Tabletop Game Kickstarter Advice, Card & Board Game Designers Guild, Art & Graphic Design for Tabletop Games, The Boardgame Group, Tapletop Promotions - Crowdfunding, Protospiel, Tabletop Game Design Competitions, Board game reviewers.

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?
Gosh, Star Trek and Star Wars should stop being compared, they're both great! I don't like coke or pepsi, Dr. Pepper all the way! VHS! Or laser disc if that's an option.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I program video games, produce podcasts, manage a parody University online (www.chouuniversity.com), I'm writing a novel (2nd one), I love playing Heroes of the Storm on PC, and jamming on my Nintendo Switch.

What is something you learned in the last week?
Apparently the new Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has a new option that will propel your cart forward without a button press. It also has a lane-assist option. I'm pretty sure both of these modifications are sponsored by Tesla Motors.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Video Game Soundtracks. 1960-1980 Science Fiction novels. Dystopian movies.

What was the last book you read?
The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov.

Do you play any musical instruments?

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I wrote a book for my wife's birthday in 3 months. It stars her and several of our friends. I think I spent over 300 hours on it. Spouses, it's time to up your game.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I once threw a bunch of industrial chemicals down an elevator chute in an abandoned factory and almost died from fumes. Ah, to be young again.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
My profession.

Who is your idol?
Can't think of anyone.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
I'd like to ask Alexander Hamilton some questions.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Depends on which Myers Briggs your referencing. I have several.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Dr. Xavier (Professor X) is the coolest!

Have any pets?
A cat!

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 hope critical thinking survives although I fear it'll be gone before the asteroid hits. Video games would be nice too. I hope the asteroid wipes out black licorice.

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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