Friday, July 8, 2016

Interview With Chris Leder - Director Of Fun - Calliope Games

Chris Leder, whose actual job title is Director of Fun™, gave me a few minutes of his time to talk about what they have going on at Calliope Games with the Titan series.

Chris, are you the self-proclaimed Director of Fun, or was this title bestowed upon you?
I was given the opportunity to choose my title. It used to be so boring as "Retailer Relations," so when I took on more responsibilities, I wanted something better. And since the acronym for "Chief Fun Officer" might be confusing (and I'm no go at math), I chose the one that bast suited me! :)

So, let's get into the Titans series. The Titans of Gaming is a huge project to bring to life. Where did the idea to do something like this come from?
The Titan Series is the brainchild of Ray Wehrs, the President of Calliope Games. He has a lot of friends in the game industry, many of whom are top-shelf game designers. People like Paul Peterson and James Ernest. These are folks who he spends a lot of time with. One day, the idea popped into his head to invite famous designers to create games in the Calliope wheelhouse: ones that are easy to learn, quick to play, accessible to a wide audience, and that can seat a large number of players. The way he saw it, the Titan Series was all about getting creating new experiences. If you’re a gamer, then you want to try these new games by your favorite designers, and invite others to join you. If you’re not a gamer, then here’s a whole bunch of new games that just might draw you into the hobby!

You have a lot of heavy hitters on this list. Garfield, Lang and Daviau just to name a few. Why did you decide to fund this project via Kickstarter?
There’s a couple of big reasons why Kickstarter was the right platform to launch the Titan Series. First, we have used it before (with Tsuro of the Seas and Roll For It!) and found it to be an incredible way to connect with people and get feedback. Also, let’s face it: this is a massive project, requiring a great deal of time, effort, and money. Even as an established publisher, we simply couldn’t bring this thing to life, especially at the scope we wanted, without people joining us at the beginning and contributing. We take it very seriously that our backers chose to help us. Unlike most other board game campaigns, we didn’t have a flashy prototype or locked-down art. This was not a pre-order system. This was how Kickstarter began: someone has a dream, and wonderful people have enough faith to pledge money to help make it come true.

Will Hive Mind by Richard Garfield be the first release? What can you tell us about it?
There are twelve total games in the Titan Series – originally it was nine but three more were unlocked as stretch goals in the campaign. We will be releasing three games at a time once a year for four years. The first batch of games will be releasing together. They are Hive Mind by Richard Garfield, Running With The Bulls by Paul Peterson, and Menu Masters by Zach and Jordan Weisman.

Hive Mind is a party game that is essentially a non-trivia trivia game. Players answer questions on cards, such as “What are 3 Unusual Pets?” and try to match as many answers as possible to the other players. Those who match the least move down in the hive, and after a number of rounds, the bee or bees who leave the hive first are eliminated and everyone else wins! It’s all about your personal experiences and opinions, rather than facts and trivia.

 Running With The Bulls can best be described as “strategic Plinko,” where players have to guide a number of Runners (represented by dice) through the streets of El Toro to get from the top of the board to the bottom, where Destinations with variable point values await. As you move down the board over several turns, you play Action Cards to reroll dice and cause chaos. But the trickiest part is the Bulls themselves. They are big red dice that will try and trample the Runners unless you can avoid them!
Menu Masters is a set collection, worker placement game where players take on the roles of famous chefs trying to earn stars and be the best in town by building the greatest menus! There’s a really clever and simple market fluctuation system where you place chef cap tokens at different stores to buy fresh ingredients to build menus, but the more people who line up at a store, the higher the prices go. So you can really play around with the supply and demand aspect. And if you need quick cash, you can even choose to own the stores during a round so other players have to pay you. Between the beautiful art and elegant gameplay, this one has proven to be a real hit.

Are all of the games in the series going to be a direction from the designers we have not seen before? 
The only guideline that the designers have been given is to make their design a Calliope Game. That is, make it a gateway game for any age that is taught and played fast. Within that framework, the designers are free to create whatever they want. It’s been incredible to see where they go with this project, and we have heard it’s actually a bit liberating and exciting for them to play in a space that they are not used to, or that people will not expect. People may think of Magic: The Gathering when they think of Richard Garfield, but he’s genuinely proud to show off Hive Mind and have people really enjoy it, regardless of his past body of work.

Will the box at all designate that all the games are part of the titan series?

The standard box art, which will appear on store shelves in September, won’t have a Titan Series designation. However, for those who backed the games on Kickstarter, they will receive a limited edition Titan Series design for each of the boxes. While mostly the same as the standard, the limited Kickstarter edition boxes feature a fun corner ribbon design, as well as the Titan Series logo image (who we have lovingly dubbed Meepatlas).

What game are you personally excited about in the series?

That’s like asking which of my children I love best! I just can’t do it! This past
weekend, Ray and I represented Calliope Games as Guests of Honor out at Texicon in Hurst, TX. We brought along some near-final prototypes of all three upcoming Titan Series games, and we played each of them plenty of times. After all that, there’s simply no clear favorite, either for us or for the players. All of the games created fun and memorable experiences (I won’t live it down anytime soon that I failed to say “Top Gun” in Hive Mind when the question was “Name 4 Movies That Feature Planes”), and each of them inspired attendees to come back and play again, bringing along other players and saying “You have to try this game!” It was a great feeling.

Finally, if i can ask you one question off topic that I like to ask. What is a game that you love that we may have not heard of?
That’s a doozy. I look at a lot of games for Calliope, whether it’s to evaluate a game submission or to play around with a new game in development. So I actually find myself behind the curve on playing actual published games a lot of the time. There are some really amazing indie games out there for people to discover – do yourself a favor and go check out the titles Grey Gnome Games publishes. They’re a lot of fun for both gamers and non-gamers (full disclosure, one of my games is published by them, but only because the rest of the games are so good and I wanted to join in!).

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