Interview with designer (and Daily Magic Games founder), Isaias Vallejo, on his newest game, Chocolatiers
Thanks for joining us today and taking time out to do this interview. Could you tell our readers some about the gameplay of Chocolatiers?
Isaias: Thanks for having me! Chocolatiers is a card-drafting tile-laying game. The overall goal is to build the best chocolate sampler – earning points on your box tiles, bonus points for having the biggest groups of connected chocolates and using your wild chocolates wisely.
The rules are easy to explain as players will mostly be drafting cards from a common pool and then discarding those cards to match the images on box tiles in order to take them from a line. The strategy and complexity in the game comes with choosing the right box tiles to put into your tableau – which we call your Sampler. (Think of it as building out one of those chocolate samplers from See’s Candies.) You’ll earn points for each box tile you bring into your sampler, but the position of the box tile is almost just as important as taking the right one. Placing box tiles into your Sampler becomes a tough puzzle since you can earn bonus points at the end of the game for having the biggest groups of connected chocolates. So, while the game may seem very simple at first, it quickly becomes a game where you’re looking at everyone’s Sampler to see if you can outmaneuver them. You also begin to closely watch what cards other players are drafting to try and beat them to get a box tile, reserve the tile before they can grab it, or switch your strategy.
What’s the story behind the creation of Chocolatiers and was it always this theme?
Isaias: Chocolatiers began as a fireworks game. The idea was that you were going to put on a great fireworks show and you were packaging your fireworks for the display, but this theme really fell flat and we had the wonderful Claire Donaldson illustrating who is a master of drawing food! So, we did a bit of brainstorming and settled on chocolates.
Once we played the game with a chocolate theme, we knew that this game needed some streamlined rules for a wider audience. My thoughts were that you should be able to play this game with your grandparents as easily as you could with your hardcore gamer buddies. This led to several iterations of the rules for about two years. I think a lot of people would be surprised at all the little knobs we turned to finally get what we have today – a smooth game flow that leaves a lot of the strategy in competing with the other players at the table.
A lot of what we do at Daily Magic Games is taking game designs and making them what we call “casual”. This is a game that can be played with a “new gamer” and a “seasoned gamer” at the same time. Our philosophy is that we want to bring all levels of gamers to the table for at least 20 minutes to an hour and be on a level playing field. We feel this is the best way to grow the hobby.
What makes Chocolatiers stand out from other other tile-laying games? Why would someone want to add this to their collection, if they have similar games in this genre?
Isaias: The biggest thing that makes Chocolatiers stand out is the spatial puzzle of having to put your Box tiles in the correct spot and having to constantly look at your opponents Sampler. A lot of tile-laying games feel like solitaire games. And while Chocolatiers definitely has this feeling of building your own Sampler, the decisions you make are directly influenced by what other players are doing. Aside from that, I think the theme and ruleset really help to appeal to a broad audience. So, if you have a significant other who isn’t that into games and they really don’t want to build a city, or nerd out in a fantasy realm, Chocolatiers gives them an appealing and approachable theme.
The game also has single token wild chocolates, what do they do and what do they add to the gameplay?
Isaias: The Wild Chocolate tokens serve two purposes.
1) Connecting chocolates in your Sampler to create larger groupings. This makes the brinkmanship exciting in the game because a player can set down 1 Wild Chocolate in their Sampler and suddenly leap ahead to winning one of the important Score tiles for the end of the game. It’s also really important that the Wild Chocolates becomes the chocolate type of any chocolate that is adjacent to it. This makes the puzzle of the game even more exciting because you start to set Box tiles in such a way that you can place a Wild Chocolate to create 2 or even 3 different chocolate types connect and expand.
2) One of the more recent additions to the game is to use your Wild Chocolate to reserve a Box tile. This was an important addition because players often felt disheartened when they worked really hard to fulfill a Box tile only to have it swept out from under them. The ability to reserve a Box tile gives players a chance to focus on a personal goal while still being in the running to fulfill a Box tile in the line.
Was the biggest challenge you faced designing this game, was it streamlining it over those two years?
Isaias: Believe it or not the biggest challenge I had was push back from the internal game development team when I wanted to make changes. There were several times when we thought the game was “done”, so we set it down for a few weeks as we worked on other things. I would then take it home to play with my wife or with friends, and although the game was “working”, it didn’t feel as smooth as it should be. There was still some confusion in the gameplay with players that didn’t game as much as our game development team. When I would take it back to the team, they’d say, “But it’s done!” I fought to get it back into development at least three times over the course of those 2 years. In the end, we got a much smoother game. I don’t hold any grudges with the team for all the push back. In fact, I think the discussions really helped solidify what made the game fun, how to focus the game on that fun, and what things were absolutely necessary to cut or streamline. Game development is tough. Everyone has their opinions. But as long as everyone has the same goal in mind – to make the best possible game – then usually things work out for the better. Whether that takes a few months or years, eventually things work out or they don’t and you cut the game.
Besides, the overall goal of wanting people to like and play your game, what do you hope people think or feel when they walk away from the table after playing Chocolatiers for the first time?
Isaias: I hope they feel like they’d want to play again – to try a different strategy or to build a better Sampler. I would also hope that they’d walk away thinking about introducing it to someone who’s never played a game before.
Could you pick 3 adjectives for us that best describes Chocolatiers‘ gameplay?
Isaias: Fun, fast, and thinky.
As we close, we talk some about streamlining the game. What is your advice out there for any designers that are struggling streamlining their games?
Isaias: Back when I worked at Big Fish, a lot of meetings led by people I looked up to always focused on innovation. I learned then, from their leadership, that there were no sacred cows, nothing was above being cut in the face of 0improving processes. I take that idea now and apply it to game design and development. I get a lot of push back at times from the development team, but it’s always worthwhile to cut something and try the game to see what happens. The best way to learn is to make mistakes, they say. And if you’re intentionally making the mistakes to learn something new, then I don’t think it can ever be a waste of time.
And lastly, I think a lot of people think of streamlining as “cutting” things out of the game, but I think it can work by adding things to the game as well. Here’s a couple of examples:
- Valeria: Card Kingdoms essentially took the Machi Koro engine and added the second die from the beginning of the game. Not only are you rolling 2 dice, but you’re counting the results of each die and the sum of both dice. This streamlined the experience by getting rewarded more often and building up resources faster so you could get to the fun part of the game faster.
- Chocolatiers used to have just 1 action per turn, with a bonus action if you wanted. This worked really well, but it was difficult for new gamers to get their head around the concept of a “bonus action” that you did if you want to, but if you don’t you don’t get penalized for it. Players thought that they should always be doing the bonus action or they wouldn’t be playing optimally. So, I basically just added another action per turn and tweaked all the previous actions and bonus actions to be individual actions. This streamlined the game psychologically for players and added more opportunities to have meaningful turns.
On that interesting note, of streamlining a game psychologically, we will end. Leave us thinking some on that. Thank you again, Isaias, for taking time out to do this interview.
Readers can find Chocolatiers on Kickstarter by following this link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dailymagicgames/chocolatiers