Tuesday, September 15, 2020

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 244: Drake Villareal

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:Drake Villareal
Location:California, United States
Day Job:My wife and I have owned a coffee shop in our small town for about 6 years. Between COVID and my increased tabletop workload, I've recently made the switch to doing design and development full-time.
Designing:Over ten years!
BGG:Drake Villareal
Facebook:Drake Villareal
Find my games at:Through normal distribution channels, once they've released.
Today's Interview is with:

Drake Villareal
Interviewed on: 7/15/2020

This week's interview is with Drake Villareal. Drake has a number of games that he's worked on coming to Kickstarter in the next few months, including the solo mode of Stan Kordonskiy's Endless Winter, which should be on Kickstarter later this year (and it's a great game that I played a prototype of about a year ago). He has a few other projects heading to Kickstarter, too, so read on to learn more about Drake and those 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?
Creative compulsion. I can't help it, as long as I've been playing games I've been creating games. My earliest memories on the internet (early 2000s) are making custom tower defense mods for Warcraft 3, and designing hundreds of custom Yu-Gi-Oh! cards.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I'm working on a bunch of projects at the moment - some announced and some not yet announced. I've got two games hitting kickstarter in the next 4-5 months which I designed the solo mode for - Endless Winter and Monsters on Board (Fantasia and Final Frontier Games, respectively). Additionally, my first solo-design will be hitting kickstarter later in the year. It's an abstract tile-laying game based on Navajo mythology. Beyond those, I've got a few big projects in the work, including a co-design about King Arthur with Jonny Pac and Martyn Poole.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
My first co-design is due to be delivered later in the year, Merchants Cove (with Carl Van Ostrand and Jonny Pac). In addition to co-designing and developing Merchants Cove, I also designed and developed the solo mode and a bunch of thematic solo content for it as well. Arriving alongside Merchants Cove is Drawn to Adventure, an adventurous roll-and-write by Keith Piggot. I'm proud to report I helped develop this game as well, and designed the solo mode too.

What is your day job?
My wife and I have owned a coffee shop in our small town for about 6 years. Between COVID and my increased tabletop workload, I've recently made the switch to doing design and development full-time.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
At the house of a mutual friend. I don't like having to speak loudly, so playing published games at a bar or convention is a tough experience for me.

Who do you normally game with?
My family.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Glass Road and Quacks of Quedlinburg have been recent favorites.

And what snacks would you eat?
I prefer to just eat a meal beforehand, no chance of greasy fingers, loud crunching, getting up to get more snacks or wash hands, etc.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I'm pretty easily overwhelmed by sensory input, in general, I find music to be a personal experience whereas gaming is a social one. The two don't mix well in my mind (unless it's instrumental, thematic, background music played very softly).

What’s your favorite FLGS?
The nearest FLGS are over 60 miles away, so...the internet is my FLGS.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Glory to Rome is the game I always say is my favorite, but it might actually be Quacks of Quedlinburg. Uh...I get some small enjoyment out of most games, even ones that are mostly miserable. Like Disney Villainous, a few neat ideas, and otherwise just completely goes against both my design sensibilities AND taste. Worst game I've ever played? That's a hard question, because I try to only play games I think I will enjoy. Probably Villainous. It's not a terrible game, it's just NOT my style.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Multipurpose components are the best, especially cards. Least favorite is definitely "Market Refresh as an Action". It's just...such an uninteresting thing to do...clear and reset the board to the potential benefit of the next player in turn order.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
I've got a copy of Lords of Xidit I've been dying to play for years now, but haven't been able. As far as games I know I like, probably Glory to Rome. It's just a bit too dense, graphic-design-looking, and fragile to see regular play.

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, RPG Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
I'm not too proud to admit I've played and have had lots of fun with this game. That said, we generally play Joking Hazard over CaH when given the choice, and don't play either all that often.

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 think this question is a trap. Game design ideas come from a multitude of places, and focusing on where to start gives the false impression that game design is a formulaic endeavor.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
No. I feel like if someone is going to be judging and critiquing my hard work, they may as well be a publisher who I'm submitting to. Winning is great, but losing is far more likely. In the same way I don't divulge how long I've been working on a design when pitching, I also don't want to mention "by the way this game has lost 3 different competitions".

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I'm blown away by the breadth of work Wolfgang Warsch puts out. I love Carl Chudyk's clever multipurposing of components. I respect Phil Walker-Harding's commitment to clean and clear systems.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
The best ideas are the ones that stick with you. It's not where, or when, I get an idea - it's the fact that I get thousands of ideas. Most of them are fleeting, they don't stick. When an idea sticks and keeps inserting itself into my thoughts, that's when I know it's a good one. To more directly answer the question, I get inspiration from history and pop-cultures for themes, and problem-solving and remixing for mechanisms.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
With other people :D Typically at conventions. Lately I've been favoring "designer weekends" where you just spend a few days getting focused work done with other designers.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
100% prefer to be a part of a team. Having people count on me gives me both confidence and urgency. It's a lot easier to let yourself down when no one holds you accountable.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Money. I've never had much money, and before getting a break last year in the industry I was eating up a lot of my resources trying to go to conventions and improve my craft.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Redwall, by Brian Jacques. I'm pretty torn on how popular "medieval era anthropomorphized critters and rodents" has become as a theme (Root, Everdell). Redwall (or, arguably, Watership Down) is the father of this "genre". I see it as a co-operative, narrative card game along the lines of Arkham Horror or Lord of the Rings LCGs.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Just. Put. It. On. The. Table. And. Stop. Over. Thinking. It.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Don't approach game design with the goal of making a good game. Approach it with the goal of learning how to make good games in general. If you aim to succeed, you will be disappointed. If you aim to learn, you will always stay hungry and inspired.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Games that will soon be published are: [Merchants Cove - 2020] - Co-design with Carl Van Ostrand and Jonny Pac
[Drawn to Adventure - 2020] - Solo mode

I'm planning to crowdfund: [Monsters on Board] - Solo mode
[Endless Winter] - Solo mode
[Unannounced Navajo Tile Laying Game] - First solo published title!
[Unannounced Euro Game] - Co-design with Jonny Pac and Martyn Poole

Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: [Flight of the Frigatebird] - A free solo PnP game about Frigatebirds. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1ToPtjKbMe_HX3psTNPaS7EqKYyc7Ag9Y?usp=sharing
Games that I'm playtesting are: Project: Genesis (large sci-fi game)
Project: Daedalus (large fantasy game)

Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Project: Generica (generic themed middle weight euro)
Project: Applesauce ("MMO TT" rpg + board game hybrid)
Project: Alloy (metallurgy themed middle weight euro)

And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Too many to count.

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Board Game Design Lab, reddit.com/r/tabletopgamedesign

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. Coke (I go for Root Beer the 2-3 times a year I drink soda). VHS (Tangentially related, I thought HD-DVD was gonna CRUSH Blu-ray.)

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Cooking. Video games. Writing. Reading.

What is something you learned in the last week?
I learned how ancient humans forged metals - inefficiently and with great trouble! I'm continually blown away by the painfully slow progressions and hard labor that have made our modern world possible.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
I'm an omni-consumer. I just look for "what's good" and consume. Sometimes tastes develop, but I feel like they are diagnostic and not prescriptive. Except country - I can't stand country music.

What was the last book you read?
The Warlord Chronicles (trilogy) by Bernard Cornwell

Do you play any musical instruments?

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I played high school basketball and was a phenomenal shot blocker. Senior year average stats were something like 2.5 points, 3 rebounds, and 8 blocks.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Not likely. I'm...exceptionally reserved and dislike spontaneity. The wildest things I do are make unplanned pit stops on an otherwise carefully planned road trip, and stay up for 24+ hours in a row with worrying frequency.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
No specific examples - but I work with Jonny Pac a good amount. In throwing ideas back and forth, sometimes our misunderstandings lead to the coolest stuff. "You meant X? I thought you meant Y." Then it turns out "Y" is a lot cooler than "X" ever was.

Who is your idol?
Masahiro Sakurai the lead designer behind the Super Smash Bros. His commitment to his work, his duty to his fans, his genuine love of design, and his inspiring approach to mastery are all things I look up to as a designer.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Probably have a moral conundrum. Then probably try to see if time tends to self-correct, or if it's more of a "butterfly effect" situation. From there...not sure. I'd probably treat it as a research device instead of a problem-solving one.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?

Have any pets?
Loki and Luna, two dogs. We also have a cat who hangs out outside who we feed, water, and warm in the winter. We call him "Scuzz Cat". He can't come in because everyone is allergic.

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?
Anything analog will survive. Things without commonly printed rulesets would likely evolve as people re-discover and re-interpret the games. Imagine trying to reverse-engineer basketball or football 300 years after it was last played. Capitalism. ;P

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're reading this, you’re the real mvp.

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

If you have questions about game design, feel free to reach out to me.

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?  Please 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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