Tuesday, August 6, 2019

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 183: Zen-Sky Fairborn

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:Zen-Sky Fairborn
Email:zfairborn@hotmail.com
Location:Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Day Job:Unemployed (Youtube Vlogger; also applying for jobs as Security Officer and/or High School Teacher from prior experiences)
Designing:Over ten years!
BGG:zfairborn
Facebook:Zen Fairborn
Twitter:@ZenjoyTweets
YouTube:Zenjoy Life
Find my games at:n/a - none published (yet)
Today's Interview is with:

Zen-Sky Fairborn
Interviewed on: 1/14/2019

Today's interview is with Zen-Sky Fairborn, an Australian game designer that also does video blogging on his YouTube channels. Zen is working on several games, so read on to learn more about him and his current 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 wanted to improve games that already existed to be enjoyable for me to play again

What game or games are you currently working on?
A co-op Card game based on "Sentinels of the Multiverse" but with new mechanics and a re-skin that targets a different audience AND A competitive semi-co-op game based on "Spartacus" but taking elements from other games, including 'Unfair' and 'Sentinels of the Multiverse' and even some inspiration from 'A Touch of Evil' - and potentially more.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Not Yet

What is your day job?
Unemployed (Youtube Vlogger; also applying for jobs as Security Officer and/or High School Teacher from prior experiences)

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
It’s a social experience that allows me to interact with people, and to experience stories in a structured form of improvisation (ideally have memorable fun moments)

Who do you normally game with?
Friends, but occasionally strangers at boardgame gathering events

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Unfair, Colt Express, Ankh-Morpork, Thunderbirds

And what snacks would you eat?
I'm dieting ATM, but I do like fruit - and some doritos.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I do, but only atmospheric background music played low - so its present without being noticable.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Currently "Pro Gamers" in Victoria. They are a boardgame store with a dedicated cafe. You buy food to keep their store running (and many people buy card games from there too), but come to play games in their air conditioned environment. It's only 15 mins away from me. That said, 'Gameology' in VIC comes in second as they have very affordable boardgame prices - ignoring the irritating inflation costs Australia demands on all products (simply ‘cause they CAN inflate their product cost).

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Fav Game = Tied between 'Unfair' and 'Colt Express'. Unfair is a puzzle you create from choosing decks, which you then solve. You cannot come to the board WITH pre-made strategies as you cannot predict your opening hand, but still need to be tactical in your construction. There IS player interaction, but not the most cut-throat of games. Close contended Colt Express for similar reasons (you adapt to the situation while being focused on a goal). Least Fav I'd Still Play = a tie between 'Spartacus' and 'Battlestar'. Both have great player interaction, builds decent tension. Sadly, neither were playtested enough to be properly balanced, which has reduced my love for both - and some expansions were released purely for commercial gain (offered ignorable mechanics). Worst Game I've Played = "Collateral Damage" An indie 'anime-themed' game with HORRIBLE art production, minimal thought in overall design, with the WORST rule book I've ever encountered.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Again a tie. I love the "deck" selecting of 'Unfair' to create a unique set of cards each game, I love the 'Cylon Traitor' mechanic of Battlestar, I love the 'borrow influence' mechanic of Spartacus, and the 'map-generation of Star Trek Ascendency'.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Probably Star Trek Ascendancy. There is a lot to like about the game, but a lot that is painfully (obviously) unplaytested to the point I cannot bare to bring it to players to experience.

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

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

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
No

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 a bit of both. Mechanics are more important to me THAN theme (you can reskin most mechanics to fit), but there are some Themes that help justify mechanics. Battlestar Galactica's "Cylon Skill Card Treachery" mechanic could be easily re-skinned for other games - it's a great mechanic. On the other hand, their FTL jump mechanic to clear the board of cylon ships (improved greatly with the Cylon Fleet board expansion) is something you could only use in Battlestar... or at least a game where teleporting away a whole 'village' is thematically acceptable. Inevitably, I find mechanics make the game, and theme creates the story. Both are needed. But Theme without Mechanics is just a book, while Mechanics without Theme is just a machine - both are required to make a game.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
no

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Joel Finch - the head designer of "Unfair". He's an australian (support the homeland!), he is VERY active on Facebook to interact with his fans, his game was designed with excellent balance, without being absurdly complicated, and made to be fun. I'd love to work with him someday in some way.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
When taking a walk - getting out of the house for 15-20 minutes to walk around the block away from screens and people. Second to that comes from watching TV shows, playing games with people, experiencing new things.

How do you go about playtesting your games?

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
Currently been working alone, but would prefer to work with others. I do ask boardgame experienced friends for their advice and opinions, and take note of their wisdom. Inevitably I would love to have collaborators I can work with.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Having the confidence to keep going, and the wisdom to stop polishing ONE thing so I can focus attention elsewhere. Also asking for help AND asking for help from the right people. I've encountered many negative people (who I considered friends) who discouraged my creativity (likely as they couldn't understand me; or chose to not understand me) which made me doubt myself. Only by finding genuine, supportive people was I able to have the strength to push past those naysayers and keep focusing on creating what I felt would be enjoyed by people.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
I'd love to redesign "Spartacus", "Battlestar Galactica", and "Star Trek Ascendency" - all of them had qualities I adored.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
You can do it. You have ideas for it. Don't worry about the finances. Don't worry about doing all the work. Get the core parts down, then ask for help to get you across the finishing line.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Boardgames:
- "SOL-Arena" (a professional fighting boardgame; taking elements of both Unfair, Spartacus to create an interesting hybrid of the two).
- "Stories of the Saviours" (a game inspired by "Sentinels of the Multiverse"; set in a different world [theme] with new mechanics intended to develop the pre-existing game to a different mechanic)

And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: RPG systems =
- "Super Squad (teenage superhero system; inspired by Power Rangers, Miraculous Lady Bug, Voltron, Sailor Moon)"
- "Stories of Unforgettable Legend/ Even Immortals Age (generation focused fantasy system; inspired by "Seven Deadly Sins" and long lived races in DnD and other fantasy books).

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Sure. I need to learn a lot of new things.

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 Trek (Star Wars when younger - but I've grown up enough to now understand what they are talking about on Star Trek :P ) Ugh... Coke? Can I choose neither? I'm trying to cut sugar from my diet. VHS. I'm old but not old enough to know what a Betamax is.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I enjoy making Youtube Videos - Lets Plays.

What is something you learned in the last week?
Let toxic people go - even family. You're alive now. Don't let them discourage you from being productive or happy.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Music - anything with energy that makes you feel empowered Books - I read Wizard of Oz when I was a kid to the point my copy disintegrated over time! Movies - Any story where the underdog perseveres through hardship and, through hard work and overcoming emotional barriers, achieves success and happiness.

What was the last book you read?
Likely a boardgame Rule Book. Or an RPG book. Last 'PROPER' Book I read was a diet book (as mentioned, looking to lose weight!)

Do you play any musical instruments?
Nope. I do sing though. Quite good too I've been told.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I am qualified to be a teacher, and I'm even good at teaching, but it has never been my passion to do so. I'd much prefer to educate through entertainment, then try to be entertaining as I educate.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Without a Job to head to, with only one friend at my destination, with just a decent blob of finances, I packed up and drove from West Australia to Victoria Australia in 5 days to start a new life - dismissing my old life to take the challenge of being somewhere new.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
I told a girlfriend who I'd been dating for only 3 weeks that I disliked their forceful attempts to change me to what they wanted me to be. I had intended it to just be a pause, or even a downgrade from relationship to friendship. Instead it ended the relationship AND burned all the RL friendships I had at that time, which left me alone. I reached out in my loneliness, and found a friend of a friend, who introduced me to boardgames again which sparked my interest to look into becoming a designer (they introduced my to Sentinels of the Multiverse), and introduced me to even more friends who ended up being VERY supportive of me - making me feel comfortable with who I was (compared to my prior friendships who made me feel ashamed to be myself).

Who is your idol?
Dan Avidan from 'Gamegrumps/ Ninja Sex Party'. I'd love to meet the man, give him a hug. Bonus points if I could ever sing a duet with him.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Go back in time, tell me to start making Boardgames during my teenage years, and to start doing something called "Lets Plays" once something called "Youtube" appears. Also to leave behind a 'Time-Machine' with a near perfect robot of myself to go back in time at a set date to tell my younger self to do all this - making sure I maintain temporal consistency (so I don't erase my own existence).

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Probably more an Extrovert. I like to be on stage, under a spotlight. I'm not a fan of being an audience member (part of the crowd watching) but I appreciate people who are. That said, I do also like to vanish once the scene is over and be in select company. I don't like being swamped, but I also don't enjoy being alone too often.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Probably Batman, Ironman, or even Magneto (yes he's an X-Man Villain, but I can see his side of the argument). All of them were tactical geniuses with creative approaches to their problems. All of them suffered hardships. All of them become greater than what they once were.

Have any pets?
No - I do have a Dog who lives with my father 2 states away. He is/was my dog, but he loves his grand-dad more. So it was best they stayed together.

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?
Chess. Chess will almost ALWAYS survive. What is underneath the Asteroid? I'd hope it would blow away our financial greed and ignorance, sharing wealth to help our society be smarter, happier, and healthier. I'd like racism and religious fanaticism to be crushed, so we can focus on appreciating our similarities and accept our differences (instead of fighting over them).

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):
To my great friend Sarah-Jane for giving me amazing confidence for years now and making me feel welcome in her family. To my new muse Rose who has helped me in SOO many ways that I feel blessed she is a friend of mine. To all my online content-creating friends (especially Tinily, Jeyme, Garedactyl, Richard, Daemon, Damian, Serious Jax) who have been awesome online friends and kept me company when I was isolated and alone. Hope to meet each of them in person one day. To Dan Avidan, for helping me save my life when I was at one of my most heartbreaking moments. I know you don't know I exist, but you have done a LOT for me. I hope one day you learn this. And finally, to every Nay-Sayer who told me I wasn't good enough. That my ideas weren't good enough. Thankyou for letting me know not to waste any more time on you. It let me get back the energy I'd been spending on trying to impress you, and focus on doing what was best for me - helping me find a smile again.

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

Life is for living. Do whatever you want with your life - provided you don't hurt anyone physically/ emotionally/ financially/ reputably, it is your life to enjoy. Ask questions more than you give statements. Listen more than you speak. Learn always. And always choose kindness when you can. No matter how dark your day, you can always find a way to enjoy your day.

I am the Walrus.




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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