Tuesday, December 28, 2021

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 313: Zachary Thorp

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:Zachary Thorp
Location:Missouri, United States
Day Job:Recently, IT support for mapping software. Currently, doing production work for similar products. Similar ideas, very different stress levels.
Designing:Two to five years.
Today's Interview is with:

Zachary Thorp
Interviewed on: 11/22/2021

Let's wrap up 2021 with an interview with designer Zachary Thorp! Zachary is a designer from Missouri who is working on a number of different games, including Apex Radio, about getting music onto radio stations in the pre-Internet radio age. Read on to learn more about Zachary and his other projects.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
Because I had a story to tell. And, even more so, because I had entirely too many ideas bubbling out of my head and have lived with this for years. I can't sit down for writing fiction reliably, but I can do tabletop games.

What game or games are you currently working on?
A set collection game that simulates the music to radio station pipeline, which existed prior to the internet revolution in the 1990's onward (think Napster). It's in near-final prototype stages, but I've been sitting on it for most of the pandemic. In addition, I've got maybe a dozen waiting in the wings and have started assisting with late-stage development of an RPG, Soulshards.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
No, but I've had them in front of producers and knowledgeable play testers before. I trust that this prototype has legs, and I've learned at least some useful tips among designers.

What is your day job?
Recently, IT support for mapping software. Currently, doing production work for similar products. Similar ideas, very different stress levels.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
Weekly, with small game shop groups of 2-4 tables. Barring that, a close-knit group that plays in someone's house, where they use the occasion as an excuse to purchase nice furniture and host dinners.

Who do you normally game with?
Close friends, but they have nearly no interest in board games per se. They're more into roleplaying.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Something that requires a bit of time and committment.

And what snacks would you eat?
As I'm nearly 40, a good veggie plate. They're easier on your insides and have a nice crunch.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Not especially, but light pop music is fine.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Currently, Miniature Market in St. Louis. They opened a location much closer to my apartment, and with much easier traffic and parking situations.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Currently, Legendary: Aliens. It's huge, expandable, and probably the best of the Encounters games. Long-term, games like Suburbia, Castles of King Ludwig, Big City, and City of Ruins. Lost interest in, games like Twilight Struggle and a Few Acres of Snow. They're fun, but far too heavy most of the time.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I love the mechanism of choosing, placing, and getting rewarded for good placement.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Oddly, Seven Wonders and similar. They're fun, but haven't aged well as comparison to a number of other games that have come later. It's like Machi Koro, Settlers of Catan, and similar. They're great for low-key family gatherings, but not for reliable gamers.

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, Card Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
Not just no, f-k no. The game style is interesting, but there's lines I don't want to cross. I really don't want to know if my grandmothers have lost their mental filters either.

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?
Mechanics first, usually. Theme works as a starting point, but I think you need to aim to a market, game length, and style before you can really delve into what makes a given game work and what aspects of the theme you want to investigate.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?

Do you have a current favorite game designer?
Too many to name.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Quiet contemplation, and getting away from people. I could probably come up with a mechanic by watching the blue heron that lives out by a local park, in a ephemeral wetland near there.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
Dedicated local game shop groups. You can usually find a small group of people. Eventually, conventions, your regular RPG groups, and open house nights at places like Grey Fox Games (pre-pandemic, of course).

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
You can't design in a vacuum. You must, must, must have people that you can get feedback from for initial development. As the basic frame is designed, expand your test group. Eventually, bring in the lay public.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Seratonin levels. Depression and despondency are real things. The assistance group Take This! does good work.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Hard to say.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
You're never 90% done. You're never going to get done, especially on your own. And you need to know when enough is good enough. Basically, everything I learned while finishing my graduate thesis.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Always listen and respond politely to play testers. Never try and defend yourself. Always have a good way to explain why you aren't choosing an option, or better yet, demonstrate it.

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: Apex Radio!
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Apex Radio!
Games that I'm playtesting are: Two rebuilds of a my first 'baby', a game that blew up after three years and split well into two completely different games with pleasant ease.
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Orcs with Hardhats! And, based user suggestion, a game using nearly the same components, but playing the game in reverse, and with a drastically diferrent theme.
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Many, probably a dozen or so.

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
KC Designer's Group, and I'm taking steps to work with local St. Louis gorups.

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?
It's Janeway vs. Sisco [sic], not Picard vs. Kirk. Watch some Star Trek where things happen!

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Dog grooming, fiction writing (if I could ever commit time to it), community choir, cooking good food, and martial arts.

What is something you learned in the last week?
It's possible to make your game work perfectly in one aspect, yet torpedo it by not paying attention to another one. You really can't afford to ignore any of it.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?

What was the last book you read?
Does the New York Times count?

Do you play any musical instruments?
Baritone and Trombone, but not for years. Choir (Baritone), if that counts.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I'd like to get into politics, sooner rather than later.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Not nearly as much as I wish I'd done. I'm terrible with stepping out of my shell that way.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Traveled 2000 miles for a low-pay internship at rural historic sites, with the Student Conservation Association. It definitely paid off, spiritually more than most.

Who is your idol or hero?
The leaders in this world that are introverted, from non-traditional backgrounds, and/or who are not neurotypical. It's these different lenses we see the world through that make everything new and interesting happening. For instance, the founder (?) behind what became Pokemon, an autistic man who loved bug collecting.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Push for far-reaching social and scientific thought. For instance, trying to introduce the ideas of soil and habitat ecology into society would save decades of awful health issues and a century of ecological recovery.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Extroverted introvert. I like being social, keep getting better at it, yet will always be terrible at it as I didn't learn it naturally. It's draining, but worth it.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be and why?
Ms. Marvel. Not because one could grow giant body parts to punch things, but to be able to change one's skin to be able to walk into any place and not seem like a foreigner. No need to fight, just the idea of blending in.

Have any pets?
A small dog with curly hair. She gets far more compliments on her looks than I do, no matter her trim. I'm jealous some days.

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?
The idea that there is more than one way to move forward. Live small, give honestly to those around you, and listen. It goes a long ways, especially in dark times.

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):
Yitzi Santer, who has spent 5+ years working on his 'baby', the Soulshards RPG. It's a great chance to get involved, improve a product, and use my skills.

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

Games are great, but don't forget to live life. It's always worthwhile, even when it's feels terrible.

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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