Tuesday, August 31, 2021

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 296: Roman Ondrus

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:Roman Ondrus
Day Job:Corporate Taxation
Designing:Five to ten years.
Facebook:Roman Ondrus
Other:our NEROGAMES discord - https://discord.gg/9QKE4yVK or myself on discord - Roman [NEROGAMES]#5932
Find my games at:ultimately we aim to make our games playable on SCREENTOP.GG - it's an up and coming sandbox platform. No hassle use. Still relatively new but so far great experience using it for testing. Once it gets more features it will surely become our to-go platform.
Today's Interview is with:

Roman Ondrus
Interviewed on: 7/12/2021

Today's interview is with Roman Ondrus, part of the Nero Games team. You can find the games he's working on at nerogames.sk and eventually on ScreenTop.gg. In addition to designing games, Roman is a big fan of wombats! Read on to learn more about Roman and his projects.

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?
It's something creative I can do and combines many things I like. Prototyping lets me work with different tools and materials. Designing and Testing rules lets me develop algorithms and play around with statistics and showing my games to people and publishers lets me improve my presentation skills and lets me meet new people (online and in real life). Overall Game design is a great hobby.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I have a bunch of designs which I am working on right now. The most developed are: 1) dexterity game about goblins in submarines that shoot lasers, 2) a tile laying / path building / area control game using rhombus shaped tiles, and last but not least 3) VIEWPOINTS - a silent cooperative puzzle game where upto 5 players are building the same structure but only see the blueprint of the structure from their own viewpoint (so 4 sides and potential 5th player sees the structure from the top. The players cannot talk to each other and cannot lose (unless they give up). The game is an outcome of a dare. My standard inclination is developing highly competitive abstract strategy games (balanced, no or little luck, easy to learn hard to master) and I was dared to design something out of my comfort zone. I was influenced by 2 games. Polyssimo (Alain Brobecker / Djeco) and ...and then, we held hands (David Chircop, Yannick Massa / LudiCreations). Alain motivated me to go down the rabbit hole of polyminoes (specifically pentominoes in my game) and "and then, we held hands" showed me how to create a conflict in a cooperative game.

VIEWPOINTS' rules are quite simple however the ability to empathize with other points of views, ability to try to understand other players even if their moves seem illogical and ability to complete a goal even if everybody has seemingly different instructions makes this quite a complex game. During testing we have had kids 10+ that were able to play it with complete rules. Under 10 it's just too frustrating for them not to talk so I usually allow it.

The design went through several iterations (as each game should). The game consists of 10 pentominoes (12 exist in total but the I and B pentominoes are not in this game). The choice of removing these pieces was quite deliberate. After doing some research, this combination of pentominoes actually has only ONE unique solution how to put it into a 5x10 shape. This has nothing to do with the game, but it's quite interesting and actually makes it very difficult to put the game back into the box (unless you know the solution - which is of course included in the rulebook). It's a nice Easter egg - puzzle within a puzzle. Each pentomino has a different color and players are building a structure with the boundary of a virtual 6x6x6 cube. The 6x6 platform is provided in the game and the structure cannot have a height of more than 6.

The game also has some game components that can make it more challenging or more suitable for a party setting. There is a round dial. This can be set to a number up to 20 and indicates the number of rounds players have to complete the puzzle. A few tokens can make the game more interactive. Each token can only be used once per game (by anyone) and the actions range from asking which color a player sees on a specific coordinate on their blueprint to swapping places with someone (which means swapping viewpoints and blueprint cards).

One of my biggest annoyances when it comes to puzzles is replay value. The plan is the game will contain 10 - 20 challenges (50-100 cards) but I want to make it possible for players to make the game their own. Thus every game should have empty template cards and players can then create their own puzzles (basically one player builds a structure, draws/colors the blueprints from each side then breaks the structure and lets the others now build it again based on the blueprints. There is also a possibility of a an app (instead of cards each player just gets their blueprint on their phone based on where they sit) and of course the ability to share puzzles online with others members of the community is also something I would ultimately like to see. The game is ready, testes (also blind tests - last one was at SPELENSPEKTAKEL in Utrecht just before Corona, but this year (2021) I plan to take the prototypes to SPIEL as well.

Photos and videos can be supplied

Have you designed any games that have been published?
I have extensively worked on a game called Kombo Afrika which was recently licensed by Hub Games and republished as Kombo Klash. My contribution was mainly to balancing, rule specifications to cover also statistically improbable scenarios and some art ideas that ultimately made it to the final product.

I have yet to have my own design published.

What is your day job?
Corporate Taxation

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
game festivals/cons - I just love to meet new people and challenge myself to play against different play styles.

Who do you normally game with?
my partner and my game designer friends

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Depends. If they are casuals then I usually just go directly for games like DixIt, Concept, Carcassone, Boggle. If they are up for a challenge I take out one of my many abstracts (I just love the look on people’s faces when I take out TAMSK). But in the end I like to mix it up. I show them my whole library (which is becoming more and more difficult) and I spend a lot of time introducing games (suitable for the number of people we have) until something clicks with all/most and then we give it a try.

And what snacks would you eat?
Honestly I don't like when people eat while playing games. I am quite protective about my games so snacks before or after gameplay - I usually serve a huge variety of bite-sized snacks (simpler tapas)

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
nope, unless it's for mood setting of an RPG, otherwise I find it distracting

What’s your favorite FLGS?
I haven't got one in the Netherlands yet, in Slovakia where I am originally from it's of course "iHRYsko" in Bratislava. This is a FLGS for many due to lack of choice but I genuinely love that place, the people there and the atmosphere. Even though I make most of my shopping online - games I shop there whenever I can. This year I am going to make a sizable purchase and donate the games to kids hospital ward.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Current Favorite - CONTROL+V) Least favorite that I still enjoy - Carcassone Worst game I ever played - there are dozens of really bad prototypes that I've tested and what made them really bad was the inability of their author to receive feedback. From published games that actually are/were relatively widely accessible it's probably Dragonheart from 2010. That game became a meme in my circles for how bad it is (funny story is that I actually own 2 copies as I won one and my ex gifted me one - no, we did not break up because of that) and Thieves from 2018 (which actually won a prize at UKGE).

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I don't have a favorite one as it depends on my mood. I love old-timer trick taking card games, I enjoy word building games (especially if they are calibrated for multiple languages), I am absolutely fine with bluffing games .... what I cannot stand is bad/lazy implementation of RNG. This aversion is so strong that sometimes I miss good games because I tend to skip games if they contain dice.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Secret Hitler and RoboRally

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card 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?
only if the Smegma card is removed :-) That's the worst card and I have a story about it :-)

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?
usually mechanics and then theme. this is due to my background of actually focusing on abstract strategies which only got a theme later if necessary (for public appeal). I think the only games I gave a shot the opposite way were competitions / challenges / specific orders where theme mattered more than the mechanics.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
NO, I actually never gave it a thought what I would do if I won. I usually enter competition for the fun of the challenge and to compare my creative thinking/process with others. Sometimes I don't even enter and I see a competition and I give it a shot on my own and I get so into it that I forget it was a competition in the first place :-)

Do you have a current favorite game designer?
Depends what is meant by this. I am in no way a fan boy and as in other areas (sport, work etc..) I don't hold role model represented by a single person but I rather have a "virtual" role model who is built from different attributes of different people. If I had to choose an author who I respect and value his feedback it would be Vlaada Chvatil. I met him approx. 20 years ago when I tested one of his early prototypes which ultimately became the game Rock, Paper, Weapons. The things he achieved and how he approaches game design is close to my heart. I don't like all his games (far from it) but I do appreciate the process that goes into his designs.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Math Theorems (or similar). Watching a popular youtube channel like Numberphile and learning about certain properties of numbers and then thinking "hey, maybe there is a game around that". I am currently struggling with a prototype based around Euler Squares (work title Euler Garden)

How do you go about playtesting your games?
The standard would be
1) play the game myself bunch of times (on paper, in my head even)
2) if possible create a sandbox prototype online and call my friends to play it with me
3) create a physical prototype
4) have some other friends play the game or go to a local game night and bring it there for willing people to try out
5) tweak it some more and work on the rulebook and do the same as 4 but do blind testing
6) take the game for a larger test (so far from the bigger ones I really enjoyed PlayTest at UKGE
7) show to publishers and get more feedback (sometimes)

During the whole process I collect feedback (unstructured, questionnaires), I try to actually observe people playing the game (notes from this complement the feedback well).

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I am a strong individualist but when it comes to game design there is just no way my designs would be even close to what they are now without help and feedback from my co-designer friends. We challenge each other, provide feedback and push each other forward.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
well except for actually getting the damn design published you mean? :-) I think it's "letting go". I think I am getting better at it, but designers just need to be able to scrap their projects (or at least put them on a very far back burner) if they are not moving forward.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Worms from Team 17. My friend actually has a pretty well working design, but I assume Team 17 would never grant us the license as we are not a big, well-known player in the industry. So if I had a wish, I would wish for my friend to get the opportunity to publish that.

As I am not a big "theme" guy I really never thought about it. I don't know why, but the first thing that came into my mind was the old computer game Whacky Wheels. So I guess that. For nostalgia sake.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Read book and articles about game design. There are many clever people other there that share their knowledge and there is no need to reinvent the wheel and learn from your own mistakes.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
give it a try, stay open to feedback (yes I know it's your baby but please stay openminded) and for the love of god please stop paying for art for your prototype before you have done A LOT of testing. I have seen so many people lose so much money on art and then have it all go to waste.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Currently looking for a publisher I have: VIEWPOINTS, Goblin Laser Subs (mint tin dexterity game), Rudolf (trick taking card game for exactly 3 players with a custom deck of 21 cards)
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Cities of Rhom
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Euler's Garden (abstract game with a theme of vegies and fruit based on Euler Squares), Topple Towers (abstract game about building and toppling towers to mark, occupy and steal regions, Tear Petals (tile laying game, tiles are tear shaped), Burza (an educational game introducing different types of auctions as a core mechanic)

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Card & Board Game Designers Guild, Tabletop Game Publisher's Guild, Abstract Nation, Board Game Design Concepts, Mechanics and Prototyping

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?
St or SW? - Orville :-)
recently switched from Coke Zero to Pepsi Max. No idea why.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Sports (squash, badminton, futsal), DIY stuff around the house

What is something you learned in the last week?
Wombats are more amazing than I thought.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Not a huge fan of music. If I am listening to something it's probably something super repetitive and I can listen to the same song a few days straight without needing to switch. Books - huge fan of fantasy, the darker the better.

What was the last book you read?
I re-read the whole Riftwar saga from Raymond E. Feist

Do you play any musical instruments?
I "played" the xylophone once by memorizing the order of the keys (or whatever they are called) to hit. Apparently I can keep rhythm but suck at playing instruments.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
Travelled to Australia just to see a wombat.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I participated in a Redbull 400 run (this is a run up the slope where people ski-jump) without any preparation. Ended up dead last from people who finished and clocked a time, but there where so many much fitter people who just gave up. So moral of the story is that sports achievements are not only about one's physical abilities.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Well a literal accident - I got hit by a car while cycling. It was a hit and run. I am still alive.

Who is your idol or hero?
I don't have idols or heros but the closest thing to a hero I know is probably my partner. Having a kid with me must be some kind of a heroic deed.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
First thing? Try to figure out consequences of using a time machine.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Fake extrovert

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be and why?
Rorschach. I would like to experience a life of a vigilante and lead a life of black and white good and bad.

Have any pets?
not currently, but I had a few in the past - most notably 2 dogs. and Irish Settler called Flamingo and a golden retriever called Fridge.

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 hope the game Hive survives (without rules) and people will lead centuries of debates about how it should be played and they won't come even close. And I hope that the asteroid carries some super virus that attacks broccoli and that vegetable will just disappear.

[GJJ Games] I’m with you on the broccoli! I have a truce with broccoli. I don’t eat it and it doesn’t eat me.

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):
Anybody that likes board games for the pure joy of playing a game (alone or with others) and does not aim to introduce hate, division, gatekeeping and any kind of negative mentality to the wonderful and creative world of board games.

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

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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