Tuesday, May 30, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 72: Dan Letzring

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.

Name:Daniel Letzring
Location:Rochester, NY, USA
Day Job:Scientist
Designing:Five to ten years.
Blog:The Indie Game Report - Letiman’s Lessons/
YouTube:Letiman Games
Find my games at:my website, amazon
Today's Interview is with:

Daniel Letzring
Interviewed on: 4/19/2017

Dan Letzring has been a great boon to the game design community. He's had a few Kickstarter successes with Dino Dude Ranch, Gadgeteers, and more. He's active in many of the general board game, game design, and publishing groups and is more than willing to share his experience and what he's learned. Read on to learn more about Dan and the projects he's working on. Groves, especially, sounds pretty cool!

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 got into game design when I wanted to create a game that embodied the crazy life of a graduate student. I was going for my Ph.D. at the time and was inspired by a comic strip (PhD comics) to create a game that mocks grad school the way the comic does. After that, I got the bug and never stopped designing.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Groves, an expansion to Dino Dude Ranch, and about 4 works in progress

Have you designed any games that have been published?
One of my games, Mint Julep, was published by Button Shy. I have self published 3 others (with 2 more self publishes coming this year).

What is your day job?

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
I play games in my house with my wife and we usually have friends over once or twice a week after our kids go to bed. I also try to go to my FLGS a few times a month to play games as well. Sometimes I go to friends' houses but since I have two young daughters and my wife likes to play games too, we usually have people over our house instead.

Who do you normally game with?
My wife and I have about 4 different groups of friends who I regularly game with. There are also a handful of designers in my area that I try to coordinate frequent playtests with.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Usually we will play one game that is 1-2 hours long (something like Tzolk'in or Kingsburg) and then we will play 2-3 small fast games like Red7 or Eight-Minute Empires.

And what snacks would you eat?
something salty, crunchy, and delicious. Usually some sort of chips and dip or cheese and crackers. My wife makes a killer avocado-feta dip that is a big hit!

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
No, we never have music playing when we game. It would be fun to get some mood music involved that matches with the theme!

What’s your favorite FLGS?
We have 3 awesome ones that are about 15 minutes from my house and they are equally amazing in their own right. Millennium Games, Just Games, and Game Gamut. They are each a little different but they all work hard to forge great relationships with the community.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
My favorite game is really any worker placement. Lately I have been playing a lot of them, like Tzolk'in and Kingsburg. My least favorite that I still enjoy is Codenames. I have found that I just don't like it as much as the rest of the planet but I will still play it when we have big groups and enjoy it. I just don't enjoy it as much as I think other people do. I do not like to bash other games, so I will not name the worst game I ever played but I will say it was long, boring and did nothing to improve its genre. It actually made its genre worse. But everyone has different tastes, so I am sure someone found some enjoyment in the game that shall not be named.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Worker Placement is by far and away my favorite. My least favorite is probably pick up and deliver or dexterity.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Caverna probably.

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

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

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?

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 actually usually comes as mechanics first and then theme. And then I retheme and change mechanics and then retheme again. 8)

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I entered the Button Shy wallet contest last year (2016). Although I did not win, I received a publishing contract for the game and it was on Kickstarter in April of 2017 with the contest winner Circle the Wagons.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I enjoy Uwe Rosenberg as I love a lot of his games, I love Scott Almes and how many great games he has produced in such a short time, and I really look up to Matt Leacock for the amazing impact he has had on co-op games.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
They literally just pop into my head randomly as I am going about my normal day. There is no telling when it happens, but it just come out of the blue.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
i first play a crappy prototype with my wife to see if the idea is worth pursuing. if we enjoy it, I start putting it in front of my designer friends. There are a bunch in the area, so I get it to the table as many times as I can in a short period to see what we think of it. I start introducing it to different game group friends (some hardcore gamers, some more casual; so I get a good mix of opinions). Then I just keep getting it to the table and refining.

Once it feels like it is in a good place, I start reaching out to friends across the US for blind playtesting. I have made a lot of friends in the community and we playtest for each other often. The people in this business are so awesome!

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
All? My last two projects have been co-designs and it has been great. It helps that both have been with two really good guys whose strengths complement my strengths well (Steve Aramini and Michael Cofer). We have been able to work well together and approach the designs from different perspectives. Co-designing is also how I am able to publish, design, and do so much all at the same time. I do not think I could do it all as often as I do if I did the designs completely by myself. Plus, the different perspectives make for a better game IMO.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Really it is finding the time to do it all. Also, I am bad at graphic design, so making decent looking prototypes is very hard for me.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Harry Potter 100%. Also maybe the Goosebumps series.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Working with other people is a wonderful opportunity. Do not be afraid to share your designs. Getting ideas from fresh eyes will only make your game better.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Get it to the table as much as possible and be open to feedback and changing some things around. Not every idea that comes out of playtesting is going to make your game better (some may make it worse) but at least be open to suggestions from other people.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Dino Dude Ranch, Gadgeteers (co-design with Michael Cofer), Ph.D. The Game and Mint Julep (published by Button Shy).
This is what I have currently crowdfunding: Groves (co-design with Steven Aramini) that is a worker placement game that utilizes bag building. Placing any worker on a land tile will earn you the basic ability on that tile but if you pair the specific worker that matches that land type, you will also earn a bonus ability. The game is all about maximizing your pool of workers to optimize your resource generation. (planned launch is June 13).
I'm planning to crowdfund: An expansion for Dino Dude Ranch (co-design with Daniel Grek). This little addition adds some new decisions, more cuteness and lots of fun to our already popular family game Dino Dude Ranch. I plan to crowdfund it in the end of 2017.
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: a deck builder that is floating out in the middle of nowhere and needs a lot of love and a weird lobster trapping game that is pick up and deliver (which I hate) so I am in a love/hate relationship with this one.
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: A science learning game (I think it is going to be bad but most concepts are, only a few make it to further stages).

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
yes all of them. Publishers guild, designers guild, kickstarter advice groups, I am EVERYWHERE!

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, I have never seen Star Trek. Coke for sure, and definitely from the fountain. VHS, please rewind when finished.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I work out a lot and I collect PEZ (I have over 1800 different dispensers).

What is something you learned in the last week?
I learned about some Polynesian mythology. My daughter really likes Moana and I looked up some of the characters to see how true they were to the real life legends.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
My music is polarizing, two of my favorite bands are Metallica and Dave Matthews Band. Some of my favorites are Godsmack, System of a Down, Korn and Shinedown.

What was the last book you read?
A book that one of my high school friends wrote and had published about a personal struggle she had to deal with in her life.

Do you play any musical instruments?
I have played the guitar for 20 years, I learned the Clarinet in elementary school and I have self taught myself a little piano.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I can draw, I just don't really do it anymore.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I bought tickets to a concert in Scotland on a whim. I was originally looking for the tickets to a concert in Ireland and it was sold out but there were still tickets to the Scotland show and I bought them. Then I had to book a trip and figure out how I was going to pay for it and do it all.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
My wife and I were both in serious relationships when we met. She joined a lab I was working in and we shared bench space in the lab. We ended up hitting it off and a year or two later we were out of our relationships and in one with each other. Best decision we ever made.

Who is your idol?
Jim Henson

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Go see Dinosaurs. Or revolutionary war time. I am from Boston and the history there is really important to me.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
extrovert 100%

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Batman. I always liked that he had no specific mutant abilities, he just could fight well and had cool gadgets.

Have any pets?
No, my wife and I aren't really animal people.

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):
I'll say hi to my wife and kids, and my family back home in Boston!

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

I also like to help give advice for creators planning to run kickstarter campaigns. My blog linked above includes my lessons I have been writing about. I also do interviews for the Indie Game Report where I interview a kickstarter creator while the campaign is running. I focus less on the game and more on the decisions the publisher made on the campaign. It is meant to be a learning lessons for people planning to run a campaign themselves.

Thank you so much for doing this interview, I really appreciate you allowing me to be a part of this! [GJJ Games] No, thank you! I love learning about other designers and how everyone is different (and how they’re they same).

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?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

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