Game designers Jason Mowery and Chase Williams on bringing surfing to the tabletop in The Perfect Wave
Guys, it’s great to catch up. Before we dive into The Perfect Wave, how did you find your way into game design?
Jason Mowery: The Perfect Wave is the second game that Chase Williams and I have designed together. The first was The Big Score which was published in 2018 by Van Ryder Games. The Big Score was the first time either of us had seriously attempted game design. We were attending Gen Con and started talking about heist-themed board games. We imagined what we’d like to see in a new heist game… That led to kicking around ideas for a game that we would ultimately design ourselves. The end result is a fun blend of light party atmosphere meets some sneaky, strategic choices.
Great stuff. Now, The Perfect Wave launches this week at Gen Con from The Op. Talk us through the origins of the game.
JM: As a game designer as well as musician/songwriter, I occasionally get ideas for both in dreams. I was having a dream where I was sitting at a blackjack table and I watched the dealer do that thing where they fan all the cards out on the table, then flip them all over with that domino-like effect by flipping just the first card.
In my dream, I started thinking that it might make for some kind of interesting mechanism in a dexterity game. Still in the dream, I was thinking, what could that be thematically? I thought, it kind of looks like a wave going out and back! Maybe a game about surfing? When I woke up, I definitely had no desire to design a dexterity game, but I was still intrigued by the idea of something surfing or wave related and kept that “out and back” premise as a starting point.
This is still the heart of what takes place when you play The Perfect Wave. Your surfer paddles out and surfs a wave back in!
What a productive dream! I’ll have to get your night-time routine!
JM: Ha! Well, that premise of “out and back” got us to the idea that your surfer starts at the beach and will paddle further out in the water, but you will also play cards to create a wave that they’ll eventually surf back in for points. The hook is that you have to pick just the right moments to do one or the other. It produces a super fun tension. Spend all of your actions creating your wave, and your surfer won’t be far enough out to catch it. Spend all of your actions paddling out, and you won’t have much of a wave to surf. Just like real surfing – or as I imagine it to be – it’s all about balance!
Chase Williams: We just kept working to make sure people that knew surfing – or at least the general idea – would play the game and have moments where they think: “Oh, I see what they did there… It’s like surfing!” Gamers really seem to enjoy moments where theme, mechanics and experience align. We try to deliver that moment as often as possible.
And are you surfers?
CW: There’s not a surfer-gene inside this body.
JM: It’s not weird that two guys in landlocked Tennessee designed a game about surfing, is it?! We are not surfers… I’m sure it would be quite hilarious if anyone watched us try though!
Ha! Do let us know if you give it a go! Now, you guys co-designed the game. How did that process work? Do you both have defined roles or areas to focus on?
JM: I wouldn’t say we have defined roles, but we’re aware of our strengths and weaknesses. It’s not like we write out separate to-do lists then split up. We constantly kick ideas back and forth about all aspects of a game we’re working on, but when we hit certain milestones, we definitely know when to let the stronger person take the reins at that moment.
CW: I am not a “creative” person by any means, however I consider myself to be very good at optimisation and fine-tuning. Jason being a musician is wired for creativity and the ideas are constantly coming which can create lots of opportunities and “squirrels”, to use that terminology. We work well together because I can help him reign in his ideas and find a cohesive balance that works for the target demographic and ensures we accomplish the original goal. Just like any creative industry, it’s always best for artists to stay true to what they believe in and originally set out to do.
JM: And if it’s time to do some more complex math and address a game balance detail, I know Chase will knock that out of the park. If I come up with some wacky idea for the game – even if it means taking a step backward and trashing something that may have been working just fine – Chase is great about giving me the room to explore, and sometimes that can take us to a brand new place that we like even better. One step backward, two steps forward, hopefully!
CW: We both have such extensive history playing games that we are able to bring lots of experience in terms of mechanics and “feel” and avoid the mistakes we’ve seen others make in other designs.
Before landing with The Op, the game scooped first prize at the Cardboard Edison Awards. For anyone new to the great work of Cardboard Edison, how was that helpful?
JM: The Perfect Wave was designed throughout the height of all the covid quarantines. Therefore, it was designed almost exclusively with Tabletop Simulator, FaceTime, and thousands of texts. I found out about the Cardboard Edison Award, and it just become the perfect goalpost for us… Make this game special and go after that award! Nothing helps you focus and stay on task like having a deadline. And nothing makes you want to design a really, really great game like a competition! We made that deadline and entered the game with the working title Surf’s Up.
To be honest, the quarantine was very emotionally challenging. I know everyone can relate to that. For myself, designing The Perfect Wave through it all might’ve been the one thing that really kept me sane and inspired. I’m thankful that those ideas came to us when they did!
CW: The Cardboard Edison experience was awesome in that we got to see a side of the industry we hadn’t seen before. Being able to read the feedback from the judges was especially helpful as we got to see our shortcomings and where we had achieved the intended outcome with certain game elements. Cardboard Edison is a wonderful operation and group of people. It was an honour to be considered by them regardless of the outcome.
From winning the award, how did the game find its way to The Op?
JM: Very quickly, a handful of publishers contacted us and expressed interest in the game. One of them DM’d me on Twitter – and it was Tony Serebriany from The Op. We were off and running! I mean, surfing!
Why has The Op been a good home for it?
CW: What an outfit these folks are! They are huge in terms of the market and they operate as such – and I mean that in a good way. Things are formal, well documented, forward-thinking and they have a large team to review things and streamline quickly. It’s been a pleasure working with them.
JM: Yes, it’s been great to work with the team – shout out to Tina Sandusky, Sean Fletcher, and Pat Marino! They’re out in California, and as luck would have it, some of the team are passionate surfers! I could feel throughout the whole process that The Perfect Wave became a real labour of love for them. They really have put some beautiful touches into the production of this game; really soulful choices.
When the game is laid out on the table, it looks absolutely gorgeous and very unique! They wanted a warm, inviting, and very vintage vibe – and they totally nailed it. You don’t have to be a surfer to appreciate the beauty and feel the love that they put into the game. Well done, Op!
And, be honest, how lovely is Tony?
JM: Words could never do him justice.
CW: Jason said it! The only thing left to do is shake his hand.
He is a gem. Looking ahead, are there other concepts in the works from you both?
JM: I just finished a new design that I’m really thrilled with called Fireworks Festival which puts a unique twist on tile-laying. Hopefully, you’ll see more about that one in the future. As a team, Chase and I have a couple new ideas that we’re working on that we feel are very unique. We’re anxious to see where they go!
CW: Yes, we always have something cooking – as well as a few things in the trash can! We’ve got a few things right now that we really hope to solidify soon and hopefully get in front of Tony! Hint Hint!
Ha! Clear the Gen Con diary Tony! Guys, this has been fun. I have one last question: How do you fuel your creativity? What helps you have ideas?
CW: Oddly, I don’t always think about what I would personally like to play. I really like to think about making something that others will find unique and want to play it more than once. With technology taking such a foothold in human interaction, I want to find a way to bring people to the table so they can interact with each other, like when I was a kid. My fondest memories as a child are of playing games with friends and family. I am constantly chasing the idea that I can help create those memories for others.
JM: Similarly, I often think about a specific group of people in my life. Could be my game group, could be my family, could be a group of my musician friends… I like to ask myself, in terms of a game, what experience would that exact group of people enjoy having? Do they want to laugh? Talk? Compete? Create? Be sneaky?
It’s also fun to imagine one person from each of those different groups playing a game together. What kind of gaming experience would allow such a mixed crowd to have a good time? These thought experiments will often get me going down a certain “design road” and ideas for something new will sometimes come. I don’t think you can make ideas happen necessarily. You just have to be patient until they come to you, and you have to be present and observant enough to notice them when they’re right there in front of you.
Thanks again guys. Hope the Gen Con launch goes well.
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