Tuesday, June 23, 2020

People Behind the Meeples- Episode 230: Ivan Alexiev

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:Ivan Alexiev
Location:Sofia, Bulgaria
Day Job:I am a double bassist, who works mostly in the evenings, so still not really a day job.
Designing:Two to five years.
Find my games at:Games, my blog, my brother's artwork and assets can all be found on playerlair.net
Today's Interview is with:

Ivan Alexiev
Interviewed on: 5/4/2020

This week we get to meet Bulgarian designer, Ivan Alexiev. Ivan works with his brother, Vesselin, designing tabletop games, a passion they've shared for many years, but just recently became serious about it. Their first game, Satchel: A Journey Unknown, is available as a free print and play and it recently won a prize in Edo's Stay at Home design contest. To learn more about Ivan, read on, and be sure to check out Satchel: A Journey Unknown!

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 got back into the hobby through Scythe. My brother and I played a lot of board games as kids (Axis and Allies, Risk, Stratego, etc.) and even then made attempts at design. We drifted away from the hobby as we got older and had to focus more on our education and careers. In 2017 I decided to get my brother Game of Thrones (the card game) as a birthday present as I knew he loved Game of Thrones and playing board games was something we used to do together. Getting each other games became something of a tradition and we slowly began getting together to play them. It wasn't until I received Scythe as a birthday present that our sessions became weekly and it didn't take long to get talking about our earlier attempts at designing games. So, we started anew (as our first game which we designed some 10 years ago was lost in time) and began designing our first finished game Cosmic: The Iliad.

What game or games are you currently working on?
We recently released Satchel: A Journey Unknown as a solo print and play to keep people playing while distancing. We are currently working on expanding the Satchel universe so it will feature a co-op mode, choices which have narrative impact, new characters, a plethora of new bad guys to defeat and more scenarios and places to interact with.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Yes, Satchel: A Journey Unknown is web-published and free to download from http://playerlair.net/satchel-a-journey-unknown/

What is your day job?
I am a double bassist, who works mostly in the evenings, so still not really a day job.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
There is a board game cafe I frequent called the Three Trolls. Like most board game communities I've been part of, they are some of the most positive and welcoming people I know. I don't mind playing at home either, but I do like the social aspect of playing games. I also love showing my prototypes to new people, so I can get some fresh feedback and ideas.

Who do you normally game with?
I usually game with my brother and our significant others. I'm also part of a board game club which gets together once a week in a board game cafe.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Depends on the amount of people. If we were 5 or 6 people I'd love to play Dune, 2-4 perhaps Architects of the West Kingdom or Scythe with the Rise of Fenris expansion. If nobody shows up then Mage Knight!

And what snacks would you eat?
I'm not a snacker, if we were to eat it would be either prior to the games or after.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Board games paired with the right music can completely amplify the experience. When playing a fantasy game we usually go with Heroes Orchestra (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VzzCBQb9IY), oh the sentimentality that music brings.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Well, my local one is Fantasmagoria, shout out to them for having deliveries during quarantine! I couldn't pick a favorite as they're all such great places full of adventure and mystery.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Current favorite would be Mage Knight (only because I got it last week and have been drooling over it since December when I first played it). I wouldn't call any game the worst, just because I know the time and effort that goes into the game. Also, if you look for the good parts of a game, you'll most likely find many. Even in the least enjoyable games, I've found some very cool mechanics and things which make it worth it, even if I wouldn't play it again.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I really like mechanics which feature some sort of artificial intelligence- like the epidemic mechanic in Pandemic. You know exactly what cards are on top of that deck and it fits in so well thematically, having the cities which are affected from the earliest get worse progressively. The world in Pandemic really seems alive to me because of the way the diseases work.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Pandemic Legacy... I started it over a year ago and we're still on month 3. I want to finish it so much, but we'll have to change players around as some of the initial group decided it wasn't a game they enjoy.

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

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

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 mixture of both, usually theme suggests mechanics and mechanics suggest theme. That being said, when it comes down to a choice between the two I usually choose in favor of theme.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I've entered several. The first competition we entered was the Sofia Board Game Weekend prototype contest, where despite not winning a prize, we saw how our game compares with other games and at the same time the competition was something we could work towards, so it inevitably helped us become better designers. Later, that same game got 2nd prize in a national competition(Sofia Game Night) and an award from another small competition. I think competitions are a great way to become a better designer, even if it's just because of the deadline you have to meet. Currently our game Satchel: A Journey Unknown is also competing in Gaming with Edo's "Stuck at Home" design contest.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Well, I can't help but admire Vlaada Chvatil's diversity when it comes to games. He's been able to make some great games in many different scales.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
I'm not superstitious, but I do feel like the best ideas come when I've worked for a very long time on a project and just stop working on it for a bit. For some reason that's when I get those eureka moments in the middle of the night. I try my best to avoid relying on that method though, because that might let me slip into not doing much. The problem is, a lot of times I've had those eureka moments just a day or two after submitting a game to a contest or publishing it somewhere... that's when I really wish I had a time machine. But hey, that's what expansions are for, right?

How do you go about playtesting your games?
The first couple of prototypes I playtest with my brother. Usually those prototypes involve very little fun and I don't want to subject other people to a game which doesn't yet work. When we do find the fun in our game, we begin taking the prototype to town in board game cafes to get feedback from friendly local board gamers. When we feel good about how the game does in most playthroughs, we find blind testers to see if our rulebook can bring the same experience that we can when we're at the table helping out. I only recently found out about Tabletop Simulator and during quarantine we're taking the exact same steps but in the simulator. We found several groups of playtesters as well as blind playtesters (those are really hard to find in the real world) and I can't believe how much this software has made our lives easier.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I prefer working in a team, and for the past two years I think my brother Vesselin and I have made a really good one. We can really push each other to do better and can divide up the work. He does artwork, graphic design and a bit of game design, while I focus almost completely on mechanics and narrative.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
What I find most challenging is turning off that little voice in my head when I play a great game which says "Oh man, I wish I designed that". I can't help but feel a bit of jealousy when I play a game I truly love. It's so awesome when a designer can make people love his game as much as he does. I wish we could all experience that feeling one day.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Isaac Asimov's Foundation would really be a dream come true. I also have a few ideas of how to make Satchel be in The Witcher universe, if anyone knows how to make either of those happen... please tell me!

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Don't get discouraged when your game isn't fun. Don't get discouraged when you see better games. Keep working on your game and keep loving it and I believe you'll find out what it needs.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Satchel: A Journey Unknown
I'm planning to crowdfund: Cosmic: The Iliad, Satchel

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Yes, Board Game Design Lab, Board Game Revolution, BG41, and a bunch more

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, Water, VHS

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Playing music, hiking and sitting in cafes watching the wheels go round and round, I really love to watch them roll (I hope you get that reference).

What is something you learned in the last week?
I keep learning how amazing the board game community is, since our release of Satchel: A Journey Unknown last week we've had over 1000 downloads and so many positive comments and feedback.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
I'm stuck in the 60's when it comes to music, books I like sci-fi, fantasy and philosophy. I'm a big fan of Taika Waititi's movies.

What was the last book you read?
The Witcher

Do you play any musical instruments?
Double bass, bass guitar, guitar, piano

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Becoming a game designer, haha

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Both at different times... Like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde

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

Yeah, I want to invite people to share their ideas and creativity. Don't be afraid to reach out and tell us about your games and what you think we can improve in our games or even just to say hi. If there's something you want to see in our games or assets or anything we do, tell us about it. The more people join in, the cooler our projects become.

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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