Tuesday, April 27, 2021

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 277: Kåre Torndahl Kjær

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:Kåre Torndahl Kjær
Location:Aalborg, Denmark
Day Job:I'm an IT Project Manager.
Designing:Five to ten years.
Facebook:Core Action Games
Today's Interview is with:

Kåre Torndahl Kjær
Interviewed on: 1/7/2021

Today we get to meet the designer behind Core Action Games, Kåre Torndahl Kjær. Kåre has a whole bunch of projects at various stages, but his first signed game, Shaky Town, will be published by AEG in 2022! If you'd like to learn more about Kåre and his projects, read on!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Five to ten years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I have been playing and creating games as long as I can remember; computer games on my Commodore, board games, roleplaying games, larps, etc. Different media have come and gone over the years though all are still present to some degree in my life. Board games came into focus when I started going to the Danish game convention Fastaval and got a taste of the games that were designed for that - and left with the feeling that I would enjoy making board games - and be good at it.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I usually have 10+ games in different stages of design, so it would be too much to mention them all. On top of my mind is Shaky Town with co-designer Mads Fløe which was just signed by AEG. A different take on tile-laying and polyominoes. My second priority at the moment is "I Don't Have To Outrun the Troll..." which is a single-loser race game with a traitor mechanic.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
So far, no. Shaky Town will be my first published game.

What is your day job?
I'm an IT Project Manager.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
Anywhere, really! Looking at my statistics I play most games at home and in our local gaming club.

Who do you normally game with?
I have a large group of friends who all enjoy board games and looking at statistics once again, I can see that most games are played with the same two handful of people from that group. On top of that list is my wife since we have played a lot of 2-player games after getting our daughter 2 years ago.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Terraforming Mars is always a favourite, and Pandemic Legacy Season 0 is opened but I haven't started it yet and I'm yearning to. Spirit Island is also a favourite at the moment. But I am always fond of playing a game I haven't tried before as well, and I always try to have a couple of unplayed titles available to try out if somebody is up for it.

And what snacks would you eat?
I'm always leaning towards chocolate.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Except for Flying Frog Productions excellent concept of having music themed for the game, I usually prefer not to listen to music when playing.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Spilforsyningen (translates to "The Game Supply"). It is a FLGS in Aalborg, Denmark who has a very inviting atmosphere. It is probably also the only one who really can be called "local" for me.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
My current favourite is Terraforming Mars and have been for a long time. Worst ever was a Danish game called something along the lines of "back to school". It was a quiz game with questions school pupils should be able to answer. The gameplay was horrible and the questions were so faulty it was embarrassing.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I have very broad taste - I don't have a single favourite mechanic. I like mechanics that are tightly interwoven with one another and I like mechanics that have a very strong thematic tie. Similarly, I don't have any mechanics I dislike. I have experienced a lot of games with problematic auction mechanics so I have become a bit cautious with games relying on those.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Sherlock Holmes - Consulting detective. It almost always seems to take an entire evening and everybody has to be alert and fresh, so we almost always end up going for something that is not so demanding.

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

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

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
Yes, but it has been a very long time. I enjoy the humor but recent stories about their work environment has left me a bit cautious.

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 usually start with a dilemma or feeling. It sounds a bit "soft" and undefineable but in my head it is a clear idea of what I want the player to experience. I quickly put this into a theme and try out some mechanics. The mechanics - and sometimes also the theme - can be changed, but the core dilemma/feeling stays consistent. That being said, as I spend more time designing I more and more come to game mechanic first. I have also recently started designing a game that started with my wishes for the design process and how it should be marketed and then working my way into mechanics and theme from there.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I have participated in the Fastaval board game design competition three times and been nominated every time but never won anything. Competition is stiff, so I regard a nomination as a great honor in itself.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I would say no since I'm not very good at remembering names. But then I came to think of Elizabeth Hargrave. This is more from a designer perspective than from a player perspective; I like that she picks unusual yet compelling themes (birds, butterflies, and bouquets to name a few) and that she is a vocal voice for a more diverse composition of designers - and by extension, I believe, players.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Anywhere. Usually by observing some different part of Life and asking myself "Could this element be made into an interesting game?".

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I gather people I know tell me their honest opinions and preferably some who design games themselves (of one kind or another). Then we play a game, do some changes, play again, etc. I often prepare specific stuff I want to test but often we end up going in another directing based on some idea or suggestion from the test.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
Both, really. Working alone gives me total freedom and creativity. I do not have to cater to another persons ideas or thoughts. But I also lack the energy and inspiration that comes from having somebody else working on the same game. Working with somebody gives me energy, motivation, and helps me get out of overthinking a problem. But it also means I have to accept that sometimes we are not going in the direction I want to. Most of the time I have worked by myself but in 2020 I set out specifically to design with other people and tried working with a lot of different designers and had some good experiences with that.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
There are many things I could become better at. Originally, my problem was to stop trying to perfect every little detail before moving on, but I have come a long way with that, and that is rarely a problem these days. It might be because I am still in the middle of moving and working on developing Shaky Town with AEG, but at the moment my main challenge is simply to get time to work on my ideas.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Warhammer Fantasy. The Old World, not Age of Sigmar. I am a big Warhammer fan - especially the Grim Dark roleplay version. I'm not sure what the game should be about, but I would be proud to have my name attached to a Warhammer product.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
I honestly can't think of anything. I think I have been able to get very solid advice early on and my challenges have mostly been to accept the things that were not intuitive to me.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Test as early as possible and as much as possible. And test with people who you can trust will be honest about their opinions of the game - your friends might not be suitable as they might mistakenly think they should praise your game, or simply be unknowingly biased.

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: Shaky Town
Currently looking for a publisher I have: I don't have to outrun the troll... - a single-loser race game with a traitor mechanic Sketch Artist - A 52-card drawing game - without actually drawing anything Integrated Dungeon Services - The consultancy world meets dungeon keeper Kingmaker - The king is dead - win not by becoming king, but by kingmaking somebody else
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: A small handful
Games that I'm playtesting are: A handfuld
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: A handfuld
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: I have no clue... 20?

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, Pepsi (max, preferably) and VHS.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Roleplaying and larping. I also do the occasional miniature game though it is not that high on the priority list at the moment.

What is something you learned in the last week?
I'm currently changing the soon-to-be gaming room / office in our new house and I have learned a lot about flooring, brickwork, ceiling, etc. the last couple of weeks.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
I like most music, but I hear a lot of irish folk music.

What was the last book you read?
Tashas Cauldron of Everything (D&D sourcebook)

Do you play any musical instruments?
I played the piano for 8 years or so, but it is 25 years ago and I'm very much out of practice.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I was rather messy up until around my early 20s. Most people know me as a very organized person who creates structure where I go, but that is a trait I gain in those mid 20s.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I once spent 42 hours traveling by plane from New Orleans back to Aalborg, Denmark - I think it was normally a 14-hour trip. A combination of a canceled flight and everything booked across the Atlantic caused a horrible delay. I ended up with a flight plan of New Orleans => Washington => Paris => Amsterdam => Oslo => Aalborg with only a few hours in a bed in Washington.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Besides the obvious money-earning routines, I would use it to find out if we are actually solving the climate crisis and if not, where it failed.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
I'm not sure. People I know tend to label me an extrovert, but I feel more like an introvert. I think I'm an introvert who learned to behave like an extrovert.

Have any pets?
4 cats. Which is 1 cat above the line where you can be considered a well-functioning human.

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?
I would love if social deduction games could survive. They are good, simple entertainment, and most good social deduction games are - from a game design perspective - beautiful. It would be awesome if the idea that human lives have different values depending on ancestry would be wiped out.

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):
Mads Havshøj - for asking me if we should design a game together for Fastaval 2016. This gave me the kick to spend more time on board game design.

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

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