Tuesday, March 19, 2019

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 163: Nicholas Hjelmberg

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:Nicholas Hjelmberg
Day Job:I work with quality assurance of IT systems at Systembolaget, the government-owned liquor retailer of Sweden.
Designing:Two to five years.
Facebook:Nova Suecia Games
Other:Indie Game Alliance, studio name Nova Suecia Games
Find my games at:The Game Crafter for print on demand, Boardgamegeek and novasuecia.se for print & play documents.
Today's Interview is with:

Nicholas Hjelmberg
Interviewed on: 1/11/2019

This week we meet Nicholas Hjelmberg, a Sweedish designer that has a number of projects active right now. You can find some of his games on The Game Crafter and follow along with him on Facebook or his Nova Suecia Games website. Read on to learn more about Nicholas 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?
I've been a gamer for many years but I'm also a professional within the field of quality assurance. Once a colleague of mine (who also is a gamer) asked me whether I had tried to apply QA methodology to design a game and since I can't resist a challenge...

What game or games are you currently working on?
I'm working with a publisher to kickstart "Soviet Party", a package comprised of my micro games "Comrade", "Gulag" and "Politburo". The games are party games for 5-10 people, designed with Russian political jokes in mind to convey the paranoia and resignation of a totalitarian regime.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Apokalypsis, a small game about manipulating and predicting omens to survive on a sinking island, was sold to a local game shop (https://www.sfbok.se/produkt/apokalypsis-42093). It's now sold out but I do consider a reprint.

What is your day job?
I work with quality assurance of IT systems at Systembolaget, the government-owned liquor retailer of Sweden.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
At home, where I have access to both my kitchen (to prepare food and beverages) and to my game collection.

Who do you normally game with?
I don't have a regular game group but instead have a big network of gamers that I meet at meetups and other events.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
A perfect game night would start with a medium Knizia (perhaps Samurai or even better Tigris & Euphrates), then continue with a heavier economic game (a Wallace or a Splotter game), and finally end with a lighter game (a card game like Innovation or a party game like Avalon).

And what snacks would you eat?
If I have the opportunity, I always bring a basket of fresh bread or buns.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Possibly, if the music fits the theme of the game, but usually there is so much table talk that noone misses the music.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Since I often buy older classics, I have no favorite FLGS but rather buy games wherever I find them. However, Alphaspel (https://alphaspel.se/) has a gaming room which I often visit.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
In my opinion, Tigris & Euphrates remains the best game ever designed. Catan is an old favorite that rarely hits the table nowadays but I still think it's a good game. Cards Against Humanity is one of few games I'd refuse to play again.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Tile laying, particularly if the tiles are laid on a common board. Tigris & Euphrates has already been mentioned, Reef Encounter and The Great Zimbabwe are two other great representatives. Take that, when impossible to predict and defend against, doesn't belong in modern games in my opinion.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Tigris & Euphrates. Call me old fashioned but I think many gamers today prefer games which I would label as "multi-player solitaires with instant kicks" - build your own engine and accumulate victory points for everything you do. Tigris & Euphrates on the other hand rewards long term planning, where you sometimes have to take small steps to set up a strong finish. This is nothing you understand in your first game and few gamers have the patience to continue playing and discover new layers.

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

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

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?

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 often starts with a basic mechanic that I want to explore. Then I think about which theme that would make justice to that mechanic. After that, it's an iterative process, where the theme provides new ideas to the mechanics and vice versa. It happens that I have ideas about themes that I would like to turn into games but it's not until I get an idea for a new mechanic that I actually realize those ideas.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I've entered several competitions and reached the final in several of them, among them World Original Design Contest of Board Game (http://wodc.yokagames.com/) with the game Dyce, the Thundergryph Survival Design Contest (https://thundergryph.com/survival-design-contest-finalists/) with the game Apokalypsis and the TGC Killer Gamer's Remorse Challenge (https://www.thegamecrafter.com/contests/killer-gamer-s-remorse-challenge) with the game Mingle and Murder.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Reiner Knizia, particularly when it comes to his games around the turn of the century. The way he takes a well-known mechanic and turns it into a unique game experience is unprecedented.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
New ideas may erupt anywhere and anytime when I least expect them (but never when I want to). Once I have an idea, it grows most easily when I exercise (jogging, cycling etc.), during which I think about possible ways to implement. If the idea survives the "designing in the mind", I put it on paper and start drafting various options and scenarios.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
First I playtest them myself over and over by simulating and documenting the game flow in a spreadsheet. I also consider early rule writing as a good test, since it's a measure of how simple and intuitive the game is. When I don't think I can improve the game anymore - but no sooner than that! - I present it to fellow designers. If the game passes their critical eyes as well, I test it with people I know and prepare print & play documents for blind tests. I used to send physical copies to testers as well but recently I have started using Tabletopia instead.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I would like to design as part of a team one day but so far I've only worked on my own.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Testing. It's ironic that I work with quality assurance and yet have such challenges in finding enough time and people for testing.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Generally I prefer not to be restricted by an IP but a game based on my favourite book The Name of the Rose could be interesting. (I know there is one already but a game closer to the actual story.)

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
They did tell me but I should have listened better: When you feel that your game is ready, do another iteration, and another, and another...

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Do a lot of iterations but don't forget what your game wants to be. If you start deviating from it, your game may lose its soul and become just similar to every other game out there.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Apokalypsis.
Currently looking for a publisher I have: Mingle & Murder (a murder mystery game)
Cosmoclasm (a trick-based area control game)
Find the Bug (a game aimed at teaching IT)
Iconoclasm (an abstract conflict game with shifting support)

I'm planning to crowdfund: Soviet Party (Comrade, Gulag, Politburo).
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Dyce (a trading game with AI buyers and sellers)
Warring States (a trick-based area control game)
Lucca (a tile-laying game both horizontally and vertically, building towers)

Games that I'm playtesting are: Peoples - Civilizations (a simplified civilization game)
Suecia (a trading game with shared infrastructure and player-driven supply and demand)

Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Find the Bug - Agile and Find the Bug - Project (additional games in the Find the Bug series)
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: I'd like to design an Arthurian game where the players goals develop due to game events but haven't come up with the right mechanics yet.

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
IGA Developer's Lounge, Card & Board Game Designers Guild, Speldesignerträffar (Swedish group).

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, one coherent saga is better than many loose episodes. None, I've reached the age where I need to look at healthy options. None, content is more important than format.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Baking and cooking, which fits well before game evenings. Cycling and jogging, which fits well after game evenings...

What is something you learned in the last week?
How easy it is to set up a game in Tabletopia.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Classical music, synth music of the 80s. Classical books and books with historical themes often appeal to me. Same goes for movies.

What was the last book you read?
I recently reread the Foundation Trilogy.

Do you play any musical instruments?
No, and I could probably get paid not to play any.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
My wife doesn't enjoy games at all.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Wearing an Arsenal shirt during a night out in Manchester perhaps. I had just received it for my birthday. Nothing happened, though.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Unfortunately, my accidents rarely turn out awesome.

Who is your idol?
I've had my success stories in many areas but I'm still waiting for a game design breakthrough and until then my idol remains Reiner Knizia.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Probably spend more time in the past and in the future than in the present.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
I was more into Donald Duck comics than Marvel comics as a kid so none.

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?
A chess set, to inspire the next generation to design games. There are many mistakes that should be erased but perhaps it's better to learn from them (if the next generation is able to do so).

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):
If you ever visit Stockholm, Sweden, you're welcome to a game night!

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

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment