This month’s featured designer is Christopher Chung of Flash Forward Games and aspiring designer of some very unique titles!
Bellwether Games: So we’ve taken a look at your facebook page. It looks like you have a pretty solid upcoming design in Jeu de Lune Could you tell us more about this game and where you are at in the design process?
Christopher Chung: Jeu de Lune is a game for two to four players, and it’s a game involving tile placement, tile shifting, point-to-point movement, and most importantly, area control. The story line of the game is quite fairytale-like; you are a lonely Water Spirit, drifting in and out of waters searching for true love, when you happened to meet the most beautiful woman you have ever seen: The Moon Princess. The Princess tells you that she has been banished to this deserted Island on Earth, and she can only fly back to the Moon when she has found a suitable life partner. Your goal is to communicate to her that you want to be with her, but the only way you know how to communicate is through dance. She is also entertaining all offers from other Water Spirits too, so you’ll be in tough competition to win her love.
I’m at the final stages of deciding on mechanics for this game. I’ve playtested this game the most out of all of my designs, and generally people have liked it. Two prominent mechanics proved to be confusing at first play for people, however, if I simplify one of the mechanics in question, it could make the game very dull in gameplay, so it will take more playtesting to figure out what the best way of overcoming this challenge. It could also take just a rewording of instructions, which is often the case, too!
BG: This sounds incredibly unique! How did you come up with this idea? Is there a specific experience you are hoping your players will have?
CC: I was in a board game jam with two friends and we collectively made this game called “Currents”, which was tile-based and point-to-point movement, sort of like Tsuro. I was thinking a lot about tile games from that point on, so I decided to play on the idea of incorporating water into a main theme, as water is universal. The love story angle came about when I was thinking about love and why it’s not a prominent theme in board games, so I decided to put those two together and see what chemistry will come about! The experience that I want to convey is the struggle of trying to find the path of best fit, and during the game, you will need to use your opponents’ tides to dance with her, so there will be feelings of exasperation when you don’t strategize off the start of the game. I tried to reduce luck as much as possible with this game by giving you a selection of 3 tides as your hand size, so that your ability to deduce patterns will win you the game.
BG: Very interesting! Good luck finishing up this game! What could you tell us about your challenges prototyping, playtesting and promoting your games?
CC: In regards to prototyping, my greatest challenge is conveying my ideas through the rules and instructions. I believe developing instructions is an art form. For video games, games such as Super Meat Boy make the instructions as easy as completing a level, and you get accustomed to the game as you go along. Video games can get away with not giving you perfect information, such as one of my favorite games so far, Starseed Pilgrim (Shout out to @Droqen and team!), where there are hardly any instructions and you must explore the game itself if you have any more questions.
In board games, rules and instructions can make or break the game. I don’t mind when people introduce home rules (aside from that wretched Monopoly “Free Parking” Rule!), but they were not of intent by the designer, so as a designer, it’s tough to describe how I intend the game to be played with very concise wording. I intend to make as many “Print and Play” copies of my games with full instructions, so that the rules can be playtested with and critiqued.
To bridge over to playtesting, it is quite challenging to accomplish this task frequently. I often visit Snakes and Lattes and their game designer’s night, where people can bring any of their prototypes, pay a cover, and play until 2 am! I also playtest at Bento Miso, a game, food, and web co-working space, at their “Games with Friends” nights. I’ve had successful and unsuccessful games played at both places, and I love that I can reciprocate the playtesting. I often hear about Grant Rodiek’s “Prototype Pen Pal” program, and the success of it, yet I cannot guarantee the reciprocation of playtesting, so I have not yet entered a design there.
In terms of promotion, it’s been very limited. I’m followed by quite a number of awesome people on Twitter, and that’s where I promote my games, along with my seldom used Facebook page, but none of them have reached the limelight. I hope to create a functioning website soon, and once I hit the publishing pavement with any of my games, hopefully then I can grab more attention. I’m not a Board Game Geek frequenter at all, and I must make a habit of visiting more often, along with Board Game Designer’s Forum. There’s only so much the web can do for you, so being at a convention, whether it be Unpub, Protospiel, Gen Con, Origins, or PAX, is the grand plan, and I hope to do so very soon to spread the word of Flash Forward Games!
BG: Do you have a guiding game design principle? What is it?
CC: I’m constantly thinking about new themes, and from those themes I design the mechanics to reflect the themes. An example of this would be my upcoming game called Ultimate Mecha Melee Madness, or U.M.M.M. for short. It will involve fast paced card drawing, token placement, and dice rolling with both hands. In this game I want to reflect what it would be like to go head to head in an actual Mecha fight. I’m not afraid to go “out of the box” on themes, even if they tend to be a little alienating or controversial. Bucket List is a game where you must complete as many tasks as you can before your time is up, and at a point, I was considering that death would be the finish line for the game, but I may pivot to a different ending, depending on the feedback I receive.
BG: In your opinion what are the three most important elements of a great game?
CC: The first element is a good theme. I’ll play any game but I’ll be more inclined to be interested in themes that I find really interesting.
The second element is a series of easy-to-understand mechanics. I applaud Euro games for being really mechanically-driven, but I don’t find myself wanting to play them as much as I find many of these mechanics are very unforgiving and hard to understand.
The third element is art that is excellently done and functional.
BG: Do you have a “go-to” game mechanic? What is it?
CC: My go-to mechanic is anything with cards, whether it be deckbuilding, hand management, drafting, etc. Cards are really versatile, although it’s ironic that the game most ready for publication has zero cards!
BG: Any other favorite mechanics?
CC: I love the concept of action points, and recently playing Macao, I’m influenced to have dual-purpose “action cubes” in a game. Too bad that I was smoked by my opponent and that it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth about the overall game.
BG: In your opinion, what is the most important skill for a game designer to have?
CC: I think the most important skill, or rather, trait, would be humility. A good designer must not be strong-headed and be willing to change their game if they receive negative feedback, or at least entertain the offer of changing. I consider all suggestions after feedback, some have been great, some have been bad, but when you listen to others, they’re more inclined to help you with other games because they feel they can contribute to your success and vice versa if they were designers. I also feel that many suggestions have changed not only my games for the better, but the way I think about designing has also altered from these conversations.
BG: How do you discriminate between good and bad feedback while maintaining humility? Do you have an example of suggestions you’ve received that you knew were wrong and how you knew they were wrong? Some that were right?
CC: I know that at the end of the day, I have creative control of my games until they hit the publisher network, so feedback is good when I can see the particular suggestion fitting into the current design. When I am suggested a new feature of a game or change to a particular mechanic that I see doesn’t fit with the direction of where I want to take the game, I write it down, think about it extensively, and see where it can be implemented, if at all.
One suggestion that was excellent for the direction of Jeu De Lune was the culmination of individual player grids into one big grid. Originally each player had their own 3×3 grid, and after one playtest, my playtesters said it would work better on one communal space and it did vastly improve the game. One suggestion that was not the best was taking out the Moon Princess altogether and just moving tide to tide. That was definitely out of the question as moving from tide to tide aimlessly would not only not work thematically, but it would make the game unchallenging.
BG: Is there anyone who has been a big inspiration or help to you in your game design endeavors? If not, why do you like to design games?
CC: Although I’ve been guilty of not viewing as many blogs or listening to as many podcasts as I can, people like Daniel Solis (@DanielSolis), Grant Rodiek (@HerrohGrant), James Mathe (@MinionGames), Kim Vanderbroucke (@TheGameAisle), Mary Couzin (@board_games), and Jay Cormier & Sen Foong-Lim (@JayAndSen), and The Author M (@TheAuthorM) have been big inspirations.
My Tweeps: Chevee Dodd (@CheveeDodd), TC Petty III (@PuppyShogun), Agust Blondal (@MarketDayArcher), Nathanuil DeMille (@BlankWallGames), Jeremiah Lee (@jeremiah042), Corey Young (@C_M_Young), John Moller (@CartrunkEnt), Benny Sperling (@benny275), Tim Duong (@TimSophos), Jason Anarchy (@DrinkingQuest), Danny Devine (@d3devine), Jesse Catron (@ktronod), Ed Marriott (@EdPMarriott), Jason Tagmire (@Jtagmire), Officer Blair (@Bahflug), The Cardboard Edison folks (@CardboardEdison), and Van Ryder Games (@VanRyderGames) among so many others have been quite amazing to me and very inspirational and I can’t thank them enough for being a big part of who I am as a designer.
Thanks as well to my friends at Snakes and Lattes – Stephen Sauer (@MonsterMakeThis), Daryl Andrews (@DarylMAndrews), Bento Miso – Henry Faber (@HenryFaber), David Gallant (@DavidSGallant), Jonathan Levstein (@JLevstein), Damian Sommer (@DamianSommer), and at Ryerson University!
BG: What do you think is the future of board game/tabletop game design?
CC: I think there’s going to be a comeback of board games. Snakes and Lattes among other board game cafes help with this immensely, and the multitude of game designers really push out some amazing games that contribute to the success and re-establishment of board games in popular culture. I applaud all the reviewers who dedicate their time to review all these great games, and they are a great source of information for people just getting into the board game fold. I also love the fact that Tabletop is doing an amazing job bringing many new players in and entertaining them while doing so, and I just love Beer and Board Games for its sheer hilariousness, though I don’t recommend it to those of younger ages!
I do realize that video games are still king, and I am a huge supporter of independent video games, but what video games often lack are the social benefits that sitting down at a table with your family and friends playing some games provide. There’s nothing like rolling real dice and playing with real cards. The experience is just so immersive.
BG: With so many great games coming out, do you think there is a danger of all the good ideas drying up? How do you plan to make games that will stand out?
CC: I think that good ideas will always be generated every day, so no they won’t dry up, although I will say that many themes have run their course in being used, especially seaport trading, zombies, and farming. Mechanics are often repeated and expanded upon so I don’t think they can be exhausted. I plan to make games that are thematically different and with easy-to-understand mechanics so that no one is alienated from playing my games. Often my games reflect a certain part of my personality or my life; for example, Bucket List is all about my goal of accomplishing tasks later in life even though I should consider doing them now, and my newest design, Commedia D’amore, is all about my experience in drama class in high school, learning about Commedia Dell’arte.
I will continue to have an inquisitive mind and explore every opportunity to make games that speak volumes about who I am as a game designer. I will not make a game if I will not enjoy playing it, even if many people do. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, and will keep at it for as long as I can put my mind to it.
BG: Anything else you would like to highlight about your projects? Any links/pictures you would like to share?
CC: I love to design games because it gives me an avenue to be creative and to share my creations with many people is just an amazing feeling. One day I hope that at least one of my games reaches publication such that I can share my games with the world.
I want to be able to help out other aspiring designers bring their games to market, and after doing this for more than half a year now, I realized that it’s absolutely hard to take a game from idea to publication. What I’m planning is to build a platform that allows people to create board games from scratch for very little money and expose it to as many artists, publishers, reviewers, and playtesters as possible. I can’t say much more than that, but I want to provide a way for everyone to enjoy board game creation, especially families who want to spend more time together.
BG: Thanks again for speaking with us and telling us about your games! Good luck to you as you search for a publisher for Jeu De Lune!
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