Tuesday, August 10, 2021

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 293: Ethan Larson

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:Ethan Larson
Location:Montreal, Canada
Day Job:Live balance video game designer on Dead by Daylight.
Designing:Over ten years!
Facebook:Ethan Larson
Other:twitch.tv/almo2001 I stream and talk about video games regularly.
Find my games at:Boardgame Arena and iggamecenter have Linkage online. Though BGA is still in beta, so I don't think it's publicly available yet.
Today's Interview is with:

Ethan Larson
Interviewed on: 7/7/2021

This week we get to meet Ethan Larson, the designer behind Linkage and several other games. Ethan has been designing games since he was 10! Read on to learn more about Ethan and his 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 was about 10, and had Gabriel's Point Blank. I tried making up new rules for it. The game bogged down very quickly; I learned a lesson then about game rules that worked and ones that didn't.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I have a 2.5 hour market-based Euro-style game. It's fully designed and tested; it needs art and development. The intention is to publish on The Game Crafter.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Yes, Linkage. It was at Nestorgames for about 10 years.

What is your day job?
Live balance video game designer on Dead by Daylight.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
At home.

Who do you normally game with?
Friends from work and my wife.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Cosmic Encounter, Power Grid, Eclipse.

And what snacks would you eat?
Pretzels, or pretzel peanut-butter-filled bites. No grease, so it's safe for the game components.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Yes! Dub Techno or ambient electronic. Nothing with lyrics; they get in the way of players communicating with each other.

What’s your favorite FLGS?

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Current favorite is probably Eclipse. I designed an 8-hour space conquest game around 1992 that was intended to be the next Milton Bradley Gamemaster game, and Eclipse solved every problem I had in some beautifully elegant way. My game actually worked well, with players getting to take a turn around every 10 minutes with 4 players, so it wasn't eternal sitting around doing nothing. Least favorite I still like... that's a tough one. Scrabble. Worst I've played: Settlers of Catan. I'll qualify that... it's the worst I've played considering how massively popular it is. Its randomizer is too flaky. I played the game 3 times. Twice, the randomizer didn't give me materials. I finished those games with 4 points (you start with 2, win with 10). The other game I played, I won. The worst part is I was involved in no trades in the losing game since I had nothing anyone wanted. I pretty much sat there doing nothing for the whole game. Sure, the order power plants come up in Power Grid can determine the winner. But even so, everyone still gets to play. Honorable mention in this catagory is Citadels. I got assassinated 80% of the turns one game. So again, I didn't get to play.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I love worker placement. I hate random elements that can cause players not to be able to engage with the game.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Eclipse... my wife doesn't like it. Her first game she got stuck behind a turtle who just amassed ships on the one hex she needed to escape.

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

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

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
Apples to Apples with cheap shock value. Really despise this game. I don't like Apples to Apples already since there are no real criteria for a winning entry it's just a popularity contest.

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 depends. Linkage was abstract, so it just came to me almost fully formed. My space board game started with a few mechanics and a theme, then filled in. The market-based game started with a concept and theme, then I filled in the mechanics.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I have not.

Do you have a current favorite game designer?
The Eclipse designer. I love that he managed to stuff ship design, combat, economic expansion and stagnation and exploration (among other things) into a game that (for its genre) is short.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
I don't really know!

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I play them with friends until it's solid. Then I go to local board game group meetings to test on a wider audience. By the time I'm in the second phase, it's seldom much changes in the design.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I don't know for board game design, as I've never been in a team for that. For video games I much prefer being on a team.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
I'm inherently conservative as a designer. I'm great at tuning things and coming up with new ways to apply existing mechanics. I'm not that great at inventing new mechanics.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
I'm not really sure. IP in games doesn't interest me that much; I'm more about core mechanics and gameplay.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
I don't know. I've been doing it for so long, and my processes have given me some good results, so it's hard to imagine how it could be different for me.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Always consider how your rules encourage players to behave. If your rules encourage some kind of bad behavior, the answer is never "oh but players won't do that". I've actually heard that excuse a lot over the years. Make sure that your systems and rules encourage only the kinds of behavior you want your players to engage in.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Linkage
Currently looking for a publisher I have: The market-based euro game
Games that I'm playtesting are: I have a few here, but they've failed for various reasons and it's unlikely I'll continue working on them.

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
I'm in some FB game groups: "Card and Board Game Designer's Guild" and "Abstract Nation"

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?
Neither ST nor SW. ST is painfully cornball; I don't buy the solution to scarcity that allows people not to fight among themselves over resources. Episode 4 and Episode 5 of SW are the only good movies before Lucas messed with them. Just look up on You Tube "Why Disney doesn't understand Lightsabers" to see why I have zero interest in any SW since. Coke. Betamax. Better tech.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Video gaming, Composing music (Aeris Technica on Soundcloud), Listening to and writing about music, Movies

What is something you learned in the last week?
"книга" is the word for "book" in Russian.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Dub Techno and ambient electronic music. Non-fiction books. What a film snob might refer to as "good" movies. I know it's more complicated than that, different people consider different kinds of movies "good". I like stuff like Groundhog Day, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Angel Heart; I don't like Pirates of the Caribbean, Fast and Furious, or Hot Fuzz.

What was the last book you read?
Michael Lewis's "The Premonition"

Do you play any musical instruments?
Drums. I played trumpet in high school, but didn't keep up with it.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I once composed a rap track (around 2000). It actually turned out well enough for a radio station in Philly to play it on the air!

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
In college I did trick riding on my mountain bike. Up/down stairs, jumps, etc.

Who is your idol or hero?
In game design, that would probably be Stefan Feld. Consistently good game designs from him.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Save the Library of Alexandria. Take out the Three Monsters of the 20th century (Mao, Hitler, Stalin); I know there are others, but it would be a good start.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be and why?
Magneto. For his power, not his troubles/attitudes.

Have any pets?
Two adorable kitties. Black one is Lucky, black/white one is Jasper.

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'd like to see Go survive. It's beautiful. I'd like the collective scriptures of all the religions to disappear. We should be taking responsibility for our own actions and not attributing what's happening to external spiritual forces. It's time for humanity to leave adolescence.

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):
Nestor Romeral Andres, for publishing Linkage, and giving us the most excellent Flink.

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

If you're a hobby designer, the most important thing in my opinion is to aim for something playable. If your friends play some and they have fun, that's a win. If it never gets published, that's fine. You made a game, and fun was had.


Try my game Cognizer. You'll find it on iOS and steam (any OS). It's completely free, with no ads. There's also an android version here: http://maniac-games.com/files/Cognizer_1.5.6.apk. It would be on Google Play, but they have a policy I can't abide by, so it has to be side-loaded.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment