Tuesday, March 5, 2019

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 161: Chris Backe

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:Chris Backe
Location:Istanbul, Turkey
Day Job:Web developer, author, and blogger.
Designing:Two to five years.
YouTube:Games Previewed
Find my games at:Right now: have a look at the Entro Games site - if you see one you'd like to playtest, just send a message =)
Today's Interview is with:

Chris Backe
Interviewed on: 1/11/2019

This week we meet Chris Backe, a designer originally from the US, but now travelling and living around the world (Istanbul at the time of this interview). Chris has a number of exciting projects he's working on. Not just game designs, but also a playtesting service and blog. Down below, where I ask Chris if he's a member of any Facebook or design groups, he answers "All of them", which might actually be accurate. If you're online in the game design communities, chances are you've already had interactions with Chris, or at least seen his posts and comments. It's great to have such enthusiastic members of the game design communities. Read on to learn more about Chris and his projects!

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?
At first, it was just to get an idea out of my head. I had half-heartedly written down game ideas for awhile, and while watching some random episode of 'Tabletop', I thought I should take it more seriously. Had this fantasy about getting one of my games played on the show...

What game or games are you currently working on?
This list changes all the time, but the top 5:
* Defuse - real-time, turn-based bomb defusal game. Co-op with defectors.
* Who Shot the Sheriff? - 6-20 player social deduction game like Werewolf / Mafia.
* Royal Wedding - a spiritual sequel to 'Love Letter' - hand-management, card manipulation, a bit of take-that.
* Don Quixote - an experiment to put a bigger-feeling game in a tiny box.
* Unicorn Zoo - auction and bidding game about unicorns - think 'Ticket to Ride' meets 'Modern Art' with unicorns.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
As of when I type this, there have been some exciting developments I can't talk about yet =)

What is your day job?
Web developer, author, and blogger.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
Board game cafes, usually.

Who do you normally game with?
Being a digital nomad and always traveling, I don't have a group I return to week after week. I'm definitely looking for people that like trying new things, and if given the choice, I'll aim for casual players over hard-core gamers.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
While I'm always up to playtest (my games or others), Sushi Go, Ra, and Champions of Midgard are all great.

And what snacks would you eat?
Non-greasy potato chips, maybe some peanuts or trail mix...

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Not really... Atmospheric background music is one thing, but anything that makes you have to talk louder is problematic.

What’s your favorite FLGS?

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Current favorite: Ra. Love the auction mechanism.
Least favorite that you still enjoy: Cards Against Humanity. Requires alcohol.
Worst game you ever played? Ooh... I've playtested some... interesting prototypes over the years. No names / details obviously, but one doozy was a two-hour marathon that was initially pitched as a 20-30 minute game.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Auctions / negotiating is a current favorite.
Least favorite: anything memory-based or player elimination.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Beyond my own? I'm happy to play almost anything, and don't own many games myself...

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?
With alcohol, sure.

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?
The very first spark usually comes from a question: 'What if players have to...?' or a statement like 'Picture a game about...'. So I guess theme comes first. With that said, I keep two Google docs close by. One is 'Mechanics with no theme' and is several pages of mechanics I like, have seen, have conjured up... These aren't part of any game design yet, but inspiration should never be more than a couple of clicks away. The other main document, as you might have guessed, is 'Themes with no mechanics' - same basic thing.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Entered a few - 'Cryptomillionaire' won Honorable Mention in the BGDL contest in 2018. A couple have gotten past the first round, and as mentioned, there have been some exciting developments I can't talk about as of when I write this. You'll hear about it in one way or another when I can, though =)

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
No one specific person. I'm in awe of Reiner Knizia's output (both quantity and quality), though.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
It's usually a different story every time. Sometimes it comes from trying to fix another game (Who Shot The Sheriff fixes three things I didn't like about Werewolf/Mafia: player elimination, the whole 'closing-your-eyes' thing, and that one person basically needs to sit out and be a moderator). Other times, it just comes from a conversation (Pirate Grannies came after a conversation with my mother-in-law, for example).

How do you go about playtesting your games?
When I arrive in a new country, one of my first priorities is researching the local game groups, game stores, and so on. Most folks are happy to playtest stuff if I pitch it right (usually I say something like 'if we don't go from opening the box to playing in less than 5 minutes, I'll buy you a beer'). Some confidence and assertiveness is part of this — reducing the amount of friction to get a game started / setup.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I haven't co-designed a game (yet), but I'm usually keen for brainstorming or tossing around ideas. I'll work with an artist when it's time, but I haven't yet figured out how that relationship is *supposed* to work.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
The pitching part is one huge challenge. I'd love to show a publisher a small, carefully curated portfolio of ideas and let them choose the one or two they're most interested in to develop further. (Yes, I know the system doesn't work that way — but I wish this whole process was easier and faster.)

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Probably something simple in the Star Trek universe.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
It's OK to shelve a game for a week...a month... a year. It's OK to shelve a game and never look back. You'll have a ton of ideas, and it's OK to pick and choose a priority level for each of them. They're not children that require equal time.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Playtest with everyone and anyone you can. Don't limit it to 'just gamers' or 'just developers'. All feedback is appreciated, useful, and potentially even valuable.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Currently looking for a publisher I have: Secret Recipe - family-weight logic / deduction game about finding a secret recipe.
Royal Wedding - a spiritual sequel / successor to Love Letter.
Crazy Travel Stories - a casual / party storytelling game.
How Much Money - a teen or adult party game
Who Shot the Sheriff - 6-20 player social deduction game

Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Unicorn Zoo - auction / negotiating game - Ticket to Ride meets Modern Art.
Games that I'm playtesting are: Don Quixote - family-weight exploration game that follows the classic book.
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Too many to mention =)

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
All of them =)

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?
Trek. Coke. Huh?

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Swing dancing!

What is something you learned in the last week?
How good I am at Smash Ultimate =)

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?

What was the last book you read?
Non-Obvious 2019

Do you play any musical instruments?
Used to play the piano.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I left the US over 10 years and have no serious plans to return any time soon.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Hitchhiked all the way across South Korea...?

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
OKCupid. Met my wife. Maybe not an *accident*, but an unintended consequence.

Who is your idol?
Elon Musk.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Go back to 1929. Buy up a bunch of stocks =)

Are you an extrovert or introvert?

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Iron Man.

Have any pets?

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?
...huh...? LOL. I just hope we're still able to interact and socialize with each other beyond a survivalist, functional level. Humans need emotional connections with each other, and it's tough enough to do that as the world is today.

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

I also preview other designers games over at gamespreviewed.com — no expensive prototype or awkward shipping required! Send on your rulebook and print-and-play files via the website.

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?  Pleasse show your support: Support me on Patreon! Or click the heart at Board Game Links , like GJJ Games on Facebook , or follow on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

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