A regular-ish guest (and first guest ever) on The Inquisitive Meeple is Jay Cormier. We decided to catch up with him and learn about his upcoming games Complexcity and In the Halls of the Mountain King.
Jay, as always we love it when you come around and do an interview with us. It’s been a while. We are here today to actually talk about two games, so we are going to jump right in. Let’s start with the first game, Complexcity. Could you tell us about the goal of the game and how it’s played?
Jay: Complexcity is a tile laying game for 2-4 players that plays in 45 minutes. Each player is working on building their own alien city, but this is not multiplayer solitaire as you’re constantly comparing your city to your neighbours.
When you place a tile such that the transport tubes completely surrounds an area, then you’ve created a complex. You then have to choose which type of complex it will be but it must be based on one of the habitats in the enclosed space. You get a different bonus for each type of complex you make based on the quantity of that coloured habitat, so choose wisely. You can gain more complex markers, which are needed to continue making more complexes, terraforming tokens, which allow you to change the type of complex later in the game, replicate tokens which lets you interact with others and growth tokens which are used to vote on which ambassador will be used for scoring this round.
The game plays super fast and is full of interesting decisions as you have to figure out which ambassador will score and try to create a city that they will like.
What’s the story behind the creation of the game?
Jay: A loooong time ago, before Sen and I knew how to pitch games to publishers, we thought we were going to have to send regular mail to publishers (yes, that long ago), inquiring if they were accepting submissions. We thought it would be cute if we included a small game in that envelope – not to pitch to them, but for some reason, we thought it would show them how interesting we were as game designers. Obviously, we had no idea what we were doing.
Anyway, since we were thinking we were going to mail things out, then this mini-game needed to be small. We gave ourselves a constraint of 15 tiles and came up with a 2-player game called Hot Property. It was really cool and fun and it motivated us to make a lot more of these games (which, by the way, were never shown to publishers!). Many of these mini-games got turned into larger games of ours, like Belfort, Akrotiri while This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us was published by Tasty Minstrel Games during that micro-game phase.
We would often re-look at those microgames and see if there’s more game to it or not and the one game that we kept coming back to was Hot Property. Can we make that a 2-4 player game that contained some of the same mechanics? Yes. Yes, we could-and did!! 🙂
The game quickly took shape and was called SimpliCity due to its ease of play and quick play time. We pitched it to Big Kid Games and they really liked it but didn’t really like the city building theme as it was as they didn’t feel it would stand out. We brainstormed a came up with the idea of setting it on a different planet, building complexes instead of neighbourhoods. Big Kid Games loved the idea, the name was changed and a contract was drafted!
Interesting about the mini-games becoming larger games. Have you ever looked at any of your larger games, and thought I wonder how this work as a mini-game, if the core mechanic or whatever would do better as a small more compact game?
Jay: Hmm, interesting question. I don’t think specifically that we’ve ever thought that. We have found that if we start with the core mechanic then the rest of the game grows around that to support it. I’ve found that if I start out with too grandiose of an idea then I struggle to find the hook and reason why this game needs to exist.
What makes Complexcity stand out above other tile-laying games?
Jay: We were trying to solve a couple of issues inherent in tile-laying games. One issue is that tile laying games have a lot of downtime. This happens when all players are contributing to one map. I find that in those kinds of games that I rarely pay attention to the board game state until it’s my turn since the entire board with change before it’s my turn again. So this might cause players to disengage if there aren’t other reasons to pay attention.
The other issue is multiplayer solitaire. Karuba is a fun game and I’ll play it any day, but it really is a multiplayer solitaire experience where you sometime look around to see if you should focus on one colour.
With Complexcity, players are working on their own maps, which means there’s no downtime and players can plan their turn while others are playing their tiles. We feel like we’ve addressed the multiplayer solitaire as well because you have a lot of control over which alien your complex will become. Tie this into the way you score, which is based on the ambassador that gets the most votes throughout the rounds (and will be things like: Most Red Complexes, Most connected Yellow Complexes, etc…). At the end of each round you compare against your neighbours, so this means you’re always paying attention to what they’re doing and how much you want to fight for points. Since the game is played over three rounds, and you see all the Ambassadors from the start, you can play the long game and focus more on the Ambassadors for the later rounds, which are worth more points.
In addition to the Ambassador scoring, there are ways to also trade complex markers with an opponent. This becomes important in the later part of the game since the markers are finite and you really need one more green complex! The last thing you can do is steal a tile from another player. There are ways to protect yourself from this, so there’s a nice risk/reward if you decide to try and make larger complexes.
So all of that, plus it plays in about 45 minutes, makes it a great tile-laying game!
Complexcity isn’t your only game coming to Kickstarter in early 2019. You also have the big one coming from Burnt Island Games, In the Hall Of the Mountain King. Could you tell us a little bit about how the game plays?
Jay: In the Hall of the Mountain King is designed by Graeme Jahns and myself and features art from Kwanchai Moriya (who also did the art for Complexcity – how lucky am I?!). The game has players recruiting trolls and placing them in their own supply, but placing them in a pyramid pattern as they’re acquired. When you recruit a troll you activate it (placing all the resources it provides onto the card) as well as all the trolls beneath it! We call this Cascading Production. When you start out you get a little bit of resources, but by the end you’re getting a LOT of resources!
Players use these resources to dig tunnels of varying quality in an effort to find buried statues and then move those statues through their tunnel system to get as close to the middle of the mountain as possible. It’s always an interesting decision whether you should head for statues first, or secure some space near the middle, as tunnels from competing opponents can never touch. Add to this the ability to cast spells that cycle through while you play, workshops that can be built to help you convert your resources and pedestals that are needed to double the points gained if you can get a statue of the same colour on top of it.
Each game lasts about an hour for 4 players and players are constantly engaged since turns are so quick. You score from digging tunnels of increasing quality (stone, iron or heartstone), statues and their proximity to the center of the mountain—which is doubled if on a matching pedestal, as well as great halls. Great Halls can be placed over the top of your tunnels if you managed to create a tunnel system matching the size of the Great Hall, with no holes! There are a lot of things to manage but presented in a very easy to understand the flow.
We asked about the story behind Complexity – it’s only fair to ask about the story behind the creation of In the Hall? And why trolls over say dwarves?
Jay: Ah, good question. Graeme and I take turns teaching game design at Vancouver Film School and we have always tried to design a game together, with nothing ever really sticking. Then Graeme came to me and said that he’d like to design a game with me called In the Hall of the Mountain King. What luck, because that’s literally my favourite song! He had some ideas about what it could be about, and I countered with the thought that since the song starts off slow and builds to a mighty crescendo, that the game should emulate that in some way. We came up with the cascading production system as a way to honour the theme of the song! It starts off slow, but by the end, you’re getting tons and tons of resources! Mission accomplished! As to why it’s trolls, that’s because the story of In the Hall of the Mountain King is about trolls!
Burnt Island Games is publishing this one. What has been your favorite part of working with Helaina?
Jay: I love, love, love how excited and passionate she is about her games and about the gaming industry as a whole. She’s active on social media, and her energy is contagious. Also, she has a strong business sense. Having been part of many Kickstarters now (both poorly and well-run campaigns), I can say that I’m enjoying how Helaina is planning for this one to go. Endeavor: Age of Sail was run to perfection and I’m excited to be on board for her second Burnt Island Game!
You have stated in social media In the Hall if the Mountain King is in the Top 2 favorite designs you’ve done. That begs multiple questions, but I think the core one is why do you say that what makes it so?
Jay: Ha you saw that…yes, In the Hall of the Mountain King is amongst my top 2 favourite games I designed, with the other being Akrotiri. With Akrotiri, I believe Sen and I came up with a new mechanic with how you find temples and I’m super proud of that. With Mountain King, Graeme and I came up with the cascading production, which feels new and fun and is always satisfying. Add that to the fact that I love tetrominoes games and this is a favourite that I’m still enjoying playing and playtesting!
What is your favorite part of the gameplay/mechanic wise of In the Hall of the Mountain King?
Jay: I’ve always been a fan of tetrominoes in games, with Patchwork and Amerigo coming to mind right now as favourites. To me there is a lot of puzzley fun in trying to figure out how to accomplish your goals. There are Workshop spaces around the board and when you dig adjacent to one, you get to choose one of the available guilds to place there. Then, at the start of every turn, you can activate one of your workshops. The cool part is that you can activate your workshop once for each time you have a tunnel adjacent to that workshop. This provides some more puzzley fun as you try to value the benefit of placing another tunnel to wrap around the workshop—allowing you to use the workshop 4 times instead of 2 times that you have now—versus placing your tunnel to get a statue or start working your way towards the center of the mountain. Lots of cool choices there.
That said, the cascading production is what will probably stand out most to players as it feels fresh and exciting!
As we wrap this up, what lesson do you think you’ve learned as a designer, through co-designing, In the Hall of the Mountain King?
Jay: While I think I knew this before, I never experienced this as much until this game: the last 10% of the game takes the longest! We pitched the game to them and they signed it soon after. What we pitched to them though had a lot of different aspects to the game. Mainly, each player had their own mountain instead of the shared mountain that the players now use. We mentioned during the pitch that we were thinking of seeing if a shared mountain would be interesting and everyone agreed it was worth trying. It definitely was worth trying, but then started the long haul of balancing the boards so they were fair for all players and motivated the right behaviours.
Initially, we were planning on doing 2 double-sided boards, but that was vetoed due to costs, so we then had to figure out how to do it on one double-sided board. To give you an idea of how much iterating that was, when we first pitched the game, the version of the file for the prototype was 19, and currently, the version is 54!
Thanks again, Jay for taking the time out, to share a lot of this with us.
If you like to reach out to Jay you can find him on Twitter at @bamboozlebros. In the Hall of the Mountain King is currently on Kickstarter, readers can click this link to be taken there. Complexcity will be on Kickstarter soon.