Game designer Daryl Andrews on The Real Truth – and the benefits of working in both hobby and mass market
Daryl, it’s always great to catch up. To my shame, in previous interviews I’ve never asked about how you got into game design – so what was your route in?
I’ve been a board game fan my whole life, which is hilarious because I’m an only child! At a young age I was always harassing my mum’s friends to play games with me. Otherwise, I’d play multiple roles when playing a game by myself.
Any early games standout as being influential?
I loved Scotland Yard. I was obsessed with that game – and it’s impossible to play by yourself! As I got older, I continued to have a love for games, and played a lot of Catan and Risk in college. We’d have game nights and keep stats on who won the most games, but I never considered game design as a job.
When did it first become a possibility?
When I was working, I started helping organise some board game tournaments across Canada. They were called The Great Canadian Board Game Blitz. It was five rounds of games, like eight hours! We’d take over a pub all day, and we have 15 to 20 of them across Canada.
They did one round that focused on games designed by Canadians… I thought ‘Oh! Local people are designing games?’ It really opened my mind up to the idea of design. I found out that my favourite game at the time – Belfort – was created by a designer that lived in my city and a designer that lived on the west coast. They were Sen-Foong Lim and Jay Cormier; prolific designers who I have a lot to thank for.
I looked them up and reached out. Sen said “Come over, let’s play some games”. From there, they really took me under their wing and I’d playtest games… I was set on being a playtester but then I got the itch!
What was the first game you licensed?
The first game I signed was The Walled City, a strategy game I co-designed with Steve Sauer. We met and started designing the game at Snakes & Lattes in Toronto when they started doing design nights. That said, the second game I signed was actually the first game of mine to come out… That was Caffeine Rush, a little speedy card game that I signed with R&R Games. That came out in 2015.
Amazing. Fast-forward to today, and you recently won a TAGIE award for Game Designer of the Year for The Real Truth, a board game published by Goliath. It’s based around a podcast called The Last Podcast on the Left. Were you familiar with the podcast before you started work on this?
I was not familiar with the brand at all, but I have to give credit to Goliath, because they saw that this was a brand on the rise. Also a shoutout to Target, for believing in the game and stocking it. They’ve been great.
The podcast is about exposing conspiracy theories and wild stories. They’re comedians, but they really do their homework. It’s funny, but the people out there who believe the conspiracies feel respected because they’re done their homework.
Goliath connected me with the podcast team, and it was fun to get them involved from the very beginning, but they gave me a lot of leeway to explore ideas and come back to them. I’m a little afraid of my search history because I did deep dives on all kinds of conspiracies! I hold my breath when I cross borders now!
Ha! Well, it’s not a question I get to ask a lot, but do you now have a favourite conspiracy theory?
I fell in love with a lot of them! I went pretty far down the Flat Earth trail – I think that’s hilarious and interesting. No disrespect to anyone who believes it! I loved exploring all the different maps and how they see the world. It actually really influenced the board for The Real Truth.
I was going to say it’s an interesting board! Did all this research into conspiracy theories spark ideas for other games?
Absolutely! With every cryptid I thought, ‘what would their game be?’ Also, in the game you get a dossier with a private mission and there’s a story behind each of those that explains why you’re doing what you’re doing. I felt that each of those could be their own game.
Obviously it’s a fun game, so I don’t want this to sound too heavy, but in today’s ‘post-truth’ era, was there any worries about putting out a game about conspiracy theories? Was there a risk it could be controversial, especially to some passionate believers of this stuff…
It’s a really important question! We all spoke about this, because we wanted it to be fun and we didn’t want to disrespect anybody. Tone is a big deal, and we even wrestled with the name of the game. I always liked Sheeple… I had never heard of that term, and it’s a nice nod to meeples in board games.
What is a sheeple?
It’s a name given to people who blindly follow, like sheep. In the world of conspiracies, sheeple are the people who don’t believe in conspiracy theories!
It’s fun, but we wanted to it to be fun and maybe people can learn some interesting things about these theories. Who knows, maybe one or two of them are actually real!
Let’s wait and see! The Real Truth, like a lot of your games, has a nice mix of strategy and tabletop influences, while also being very accessible. You’ve designed heavier games before, so how do you approach deciding the appropriate level of complexity for your concepts?
I’m constantly guilty of putting too much in. My development process is usually cut, cut, cut! Really, it comes down to playtesting. I have some great go-to playtesters, but even then, they can be too knowledgeable about games, so I’ll try concepts on family or people who have only played a few gateway games. These kinds of playtests are valuable as it tells me how difficult the game is to teach, or how difficult it is to remember rules.
One of my biggest lessons in recent years is to give the fun faster. There’s a good example with The Real Truth… In lots of games, you have to do X, Y and Z to earn one resource. During the development of this game, I had an a-ha! moment… Everywhere you go, you get a resource – or a ‘clue’ as they’re called in this game. You move through three places, you’ll get three clues. It sounds obvious, but it made things fast, fun and meaningful. It rid me of this idea that you need to spend 20 minutes doing different things to earn one resource.
You’re a successful designer, doing this full-time, and you invent for both the hobby space and the mass market space. Do you think it’s a smart move for designers to have a foot in both camps?
Well, to do this full-time it’s essential. I don’t know how anyone does hobby full-time, unless you smash it every time – and there are a few people who do that! I’ll be honest, hobby timelines are really slow and they can be small print runs as well. It can take years and years for a game to build its base to a level where the sales are so that you could live off them. On a practical level, it’s really difficult.
It’s also sad that some hobby designers look down on mass market games. I get where it comes from, because there have been some really bad mass market games! But, more and more hobby designers are getting involved in mass, and bringing with them quality mechanisms that lead to better mass market games.
Lots of the big mass market companies are hungry for good designs, it’s just a case of asking ‘Can you make your game approachable? Can you make it easy to learn?’ These are good questions for any designer to ask themselves. Maybe instead of having five huge mechanisms, your game does two really well? Maybe your rules could be one page instead of 15 pages? It’s a good design challenge and there are great opportunity in mass because the demand is high.
I wish, and I hope, that more hobby designers build relationships with mass companies – through events like your own Mojo Pitch – because the companies want to see what you can do.
Fascinating insights there. This year has also seen Sagrada: Artisans enjoy a successful Kickstarter campaign. That game lands with backers in 2023. What should we know about that?
It’s the opposite of making a game simpler! We took Sagrada and made it way more complex! That said, it’s a legacy game where the complexity is woven in over multiple plays. You unlock hidden boxes and envelopes and lots of cool easter eggs. It’s a bigger investment than Sagrada, but there’s a whole bunch of replayability in there too. In Sagrada, you draft dice and craft stain glass windows with them. In Sagrada: Artisans, when you draft a die, you take a matching colouring pencil and fill in the windows in the colouring book.
There’s been quite a few spin-offs and expansions for Sagrada. Why do you think it has become this multi-faceted board game brand?
I wish I knew because I’d make more games like it! I have to give a lot of credit to Floodgate Games. They’ve done a phenomenal job of keeping the quality high and taking their time. They only want to do expansions if the quality is there and if it’s something the fans want.
It was also a case of right time, right place. There were a few games that came out around that time that were pretty, quick and inclusive. People were able to easily teach their friends Sagrada and so it spread.
Before we wrap up, I should mention you’re also doing inventor relations for Maestro Media. How is that going?
It’s fantastic. We’re matching up great designers with really interesting IP. For instance, Roberto Fraga is making us a party game for an incredible digital creator with a massive engaging fanbase, though I can’t reveal too much about the project just yet.
That’s really interesting to have a prolific designer like Roberto Fraga – a Kinderspiel des Jahres winner – creating a game for an influencer brand.
He’s such a fun designer and he was so open minded about it. The plan is for the game to preview at VidCon 2023 – one of the big conventions for streamers. We think it could be a fun opportunity to connect with that audience, especially since we’re working with another big creator, to be announced soon. However, we’re also working with some international IPs and cannot wait to share what’s to come from them!
We’ll keep our eyes peeled. My last question for you Daryl – what’s your most underrated game?
I love this question! There’s two that come to mind! One is Roar: King of the Pride, a game I co-designed with Erica Bouyouris that was published by IDW with art by Vincent Dutrait. I have the rights back actually as IDW gave us those back when they got out of games. What was interesting is that IDW had commissioned Vincent do the majority of the art for the second game, because Roar was set to be the first in a four-part series. The next one was going to be Roar: Ambush of Tigers.
The other one is Speakeasy Blues, which might actually be my highest rated game on BoardGameGeek. That was co-designed with Adrian Adamescu and it’s a crunchy dice-drafting game. We joke that it’s a ‘gamer’ version of Sagrada. It’s set in the roaring twenties and some people didn’t like the theme… The cover has a person smoking on it and there was a surprising amount of reaction over that… The publisher, Artana, was acquired by Genius Games, who do a lot of educational science games, so it ended up being a bit of a mish-mash in terms of where this game lived there. The rights are back with us on this too.
Well, if Roar and Speakeasy Blues are both up for grabs again, maybe they’ll find a new home soon! Let’s put it out there!
If Mojo helps them get resigned, we’ll put a special sign on there!
Daryl, as always, this has been insightful and fun. Let’s do it again soon!
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