Tuesday, January 11, 2022

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 314: John Heffernan

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:John Heffernan
Location:Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Day Job:I quit my job to try to make games professionally.
Designing:Two to five years.
Find my games at:At my online store, at: https://islandofbees.com/store
Today's Interview is with:

John Heffernan
Interviewed on: 10/4/2021

This week we get to meet game designer and publisher John Heffernan of Island of Bees. John has designed several games, including his Westbound RPG. He currently has a Kickstarter running for This Didn't Happen, a game about traveling through time trying to prevent the apocalypse. Be sure to check it out on Kickstarter right now! There's also a giveaway running for the game here!

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?
A mix of loving tabletop games, and wanting to push what was possible in tabletop games as a design challenge.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I'm working on This Didn't Happen, a time-travelling card game about changing the past to stop the apocalypse! I wanted to create something were a player could change one tiny event in the far past that solves huge problems in the far future, and This Didn't Happen does that pretty well. This Didn't Happen is on Kickstarter right now!

I'm also working on a sequel to my RPG Westbound, a supplement for crafting in fantasy RPGs, and a card & dice game where players make faces out of dice.

I've made sneak previews of all these things on my website, at: islandofbees.com

Have you designed any games that have been published?
I've self-published Westbound and Glass Alibi, both of which are available on my website.

Westbound is a Fantasy-Western Tabletop RPG that pushes traditional fantasy RPGs to the Wild West era. It uses my d52 system, where each player uses a deck of cards instead of dice. The cards really change how people play, forcing them to make decisions unique to Westbound. Drawing a Three-of-a-Kind is about as satisfying as rolling a natural 20, but you get to hold onto it for much longer as you wait for your next turn, letting players savor the experience. If you're looking for a fresh TTRPG experience, then I would recommend Westbound.

Glass Alibi is about improvising alibis to fake crimes. One player is a detective and the others are suspects. Suspects use cards as a sort of "evidence" of their alibi. If you like improvising stories and making your friends sweat, then I would recommend Glass Alibi.

What is your day job?
I quit my job to try to make games professionally.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
My house has always been sort of a hub of all my friends, with people constantly coming in and out without notice. We usually play right here at our table!

Who do you normally game with?
My friends.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
One of my favorite experiences was playing Mythos Tales, a lovecraft-inspired detective game where you read in-game newspapers and sleuth around locations. Its quiet, and thoughtful, and can be played by any number of players, even if they're just dropping by for a bit and want to help.

And what snacks would you eat?
Chips & popcorn.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I have a constant stream of those "Lofi to study/relax to" playing in the background pretty much 24/7. There's a part of my mind that gets bored easily and wants to fidget, and those seem to keep me on task.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
The Sentry Box is my go-to for Calgary.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
I love pretty much any TTRPG, so I would consider Game Mastering my favorite game. I'm terrible at Scrabble, but always overestimate my abilities so I always want to play it. I can't say that there is a "Worst" game that I'd care to mention or remember.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Drawing cards is the best. If there is a theme in the games that I make it would be cards. I don't like competitive games that are just dice rolling with no meaningful choices or options. I typically lose those and it gets me very frustrated.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
I can't say that I have this problem.

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, RPG Games, Video Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
I'm not a huge fan of the game, but I'm fairly good at it, so it varies.

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've done both before. For Westbound I wanted to make a TTRPG that had unique mechanics, and played around with a deck of cards until a rule set became very interesting. For This Didn't Happen I started with the theme, and the desire to be able to make huge changes in the future by affecting tiny events in the past.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I don't believe so. I'm pretty shy when it comes to any of my games so I tend not to apply to any competitions.

Do you have a current favorite game designer?
I typically don't focus on game designers or studios, but just on the games themselves.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
They, unfortunately, strike quite randomly. As long as I have the task at the back of my mind, however, I'm pretty much always working the problem and it will eventually get solved.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I usually coerce my friends to help test it out. I also belong to an small game-design collective and we test out each others games whenever we can.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I typically work alone, although working with others is nice when I get the opportunity. I typically have to do everything myself, which can be frustrating for jobs I'm not suited for or don't enjoy. I have several artists that I keep in contact with for whenever a game needs quality artwork.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Its mostly the non-designer problems that I don't like. Writing, marketing, and illustrating are jobs I'm not great at.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
I think a Mass Effect RPG with the d52 rules set would be interesting.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Its easy, anyone can do it, and you should start today.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Its easy, anyone can do it, and you should start today.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Westbound and Glass Alibi are both available on the store on my website: https://islandofbees.com/
Games that will soon be published are: This Didn't Happen, Westbound 2, Krillo's Guide for the Adventuring Artisan, and Tiki Totems all have sneak-previews on my website now.
This is what I have currently crowdfunding: This Didn't Happen
Currently looking for a publisher I have: I'm mostly self-publishing, but I'm open to offers.
I'm planning to crowdfund: Westbound 2, Krillo's Guide, and Tiki Totems

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Yes, but a largely private one.

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?
PC Master Race. Besides the Console Wars, I typically don't see a reason to choose when you can have both!

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I'm an excellent dancer.

What is something you learned in the last week?
That time-space is weird and gravity is an illusion.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Any music you can dance to.

What was the last book you read?
I'm in the middle of Paradise Lost, although I only do audiobooks while walking my dog.

Do you play any musical instruments?
Not even spoons.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I'm Canadian. I'm also terrible with surprises.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
My head's a still a little woozy, but I'll tell you when I remember.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
That can happen?!

Who is your idol or hero?
Scrooge McDuck, for living his best life.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Nothing. Too dangerous.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Depends on the situation.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be and why?
I'd be Batman, but I'd quit being a superhero, so I'm just a muscled rich dude.

Have any pets?
A little dog that goes by Honeybee.

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?
Lets just hope the asteroid does its job and nothing survives this farce we call human existence. It would be cool if a can of Pringles survives for whoever has to clean up the mess.

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):
Hey Craig.

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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