Jay Cormier on Designing Junk ArtOctober 11, 2016
In our last interview on The Inquisitive Meeple, we go full circle – interview the designer that started it all off – Jay Cormier. We talk with him about Junk Art and The Godfather: A New Don
Jay, it seems like the Bamboozle Brothers are hot right now. What games have you just release and will be releasing soon?
Jay: At Gen Con this year we had Godfather: A New Don launch from IDW Games as well as Junk Art from Pretzel Games. It was an awesome Gen Con to be at to see all the people playing our games!! Next up is Rock Paper Wizard from WizKids!!!
Jay: Junk Art actually has about 12 ways to play the game! There are 15 wooden pieces in 4 different colours, and there’s a card for each unique piece. With this system we’ve come up with 12 totally different ways to play the game. They’re not just subtly different either – they’re very different! That said, they all involve stacking pieces onto other pieces! But some have you challenging others with cards you have in your hand as each player creates their own structure. In some of them you’re rewarded for speed, others for height and others for just not falling down!
What is the story behind the game’s creation?
Jay: There is a funny story actually!! We designed a partner card game called Up in the Air – which was about juggling! The higher the number the more ridiculous the object you were juggling – like chainsaws and kittens. We really liked Tichu and wanted to make our own partner card game. So off I go to GAMA in Vegas to pitch games to publishers for the very first time. I pitched this game to R&R Games and from the description he was interested in checking it out – so he asked to play it right there. After 2 rounds of playing he stopped and said that while he thinks it might be a fine game – he was expecting a totally different experience since it was a game about juggling cats.
So we regrouped and tried to figure out what to do with that feedback. Should we ignore it and pitch the game to a different publisher? Or should we change the theme to make it more serious? Or should we change the game to make it feel more fun so that it matched the theme? We brainstormed about changing the game and wondered if we could add an element of skill to it, since it was about juggling. We knew we couldn’t ask players to actually juggle – but we started talking about stacking things – and so Junk Art was born!
We went to the hobby stores and found as many different wooden pieces that we could. We started with about 50 pieces or so. Then we started to use a drill to create holes in some, and a router to create grooves in others – and we settled on the final pieces!
What makes Junk Art unique in your mind to all the other building games out there?
Jay: The most unique thing is the fact that there’s a deck of cards – with one card for each piece in the game. This allows elements of strategy to creep into a dexterity game. Previously – in games like Bausack – while it certainly had elements of strategy – there was no way to have players restricted about which pieces they got – or no way to randomize. If the pieces were just in a bag, then you could always feel for a piece you wanted. So the cards really allow for a lot of versatility.
With the multiple ways to play Junk Art, what is your personal favorite way to play?
Jay: I really like Montreal. In that game everyone plays a card to the player on their left – and everyone places that piece onto their own structure. Do that 2 more times so that everyone now has 3 pieces on their structure. Now comes the fun part – everyone stands up and rotates to inherit the structure on their left! This happens after every 3 pieces are placed.
So in this game players try to place their pieces in the worst way possible as they know they’re going to be leaving it after 3 pieces! So you get some very different kinds of structures with this mode. Most of them look very impossible to play on…until someone does! Lots of smiles and laughs in this one.
Pretzel Games is publishing the game, what has been your favorite part of working with them?
Jay: Wow – so great! They spent so much time getting this one right. They actually had Junk Art before they had Flick Em Up – but strategically decided Flick Em Up was a better first game to launch the line – and they were right. They’re now already respected and players are excited to see what’s next from them! They involved us in every aspect of the development of the game – which is great for designers! I can also say that this game has received more support than any other game we’ve designed to date. Their presence at Gen Con was amazing – three tables of giant sized Junk Art!! Fantastic!
What was your favorite part of designing the game?
Jay: It would have to be just coming up with all the different ways you could play the game! It was cool to see that we could do drafting, or trick taking, or ‘I cut, you choose’ – all with these cool pieces. There’s a ton more we designed too but we decided to keep the ones that didn’t have weird exception rules!
What was the most challenging part of designing it?
Jay: Well – just making the prototype! We had to figure out nice synergies between pieces, then paint them all – then make a few sets!
What was the biggest lesson you learned in designing Junk Art?
Jay: Persistence. We designed this game 10 years ago! We pitched it to many different publishers and knew we had a tough road ahead due to its cost. But we never gave up on it and just kept pitching it until we got to pitch it to Z-Man games (who then created their Pretzel Games line).
What is one thing we haven’t covered today that you think fans of Junk Art would find interesting?
Jay: If you have a copy of Flick Em Up then there’s one scenario in Junk Art that uses some of the pieces from that game! You even get to flick bullets at other players’ structures.
Besides Junk Art you have mentioned your other game, The Godfather: A New Don. What can you tell us about the game and how it played?
Jay: The Godfather: A New Don is a dice rolling game with area majority scoring. You play as one of the families in 1950s New York trying to claim as many neighbourhoods as possible.
Players roll dice, offer 1 die to the player who’s the Godfather this round, as a favour. The Godfather can accept the favour or make you an offer you can’t refuse and ask for a different die. Then players make sets out of their rolls – cashing in favours they did for the Godfather to mitigate some of their luck – to take over neighbourhoods. No die is useless in this game as you can spend extra dice on the Muscle Track or send them to Vegas. The player with the most Muscle is the new Godfather next turn – but also, players can muscle other players out of neighbourhoods if they have more muscle!
It player 3-6 players in 45-60 minutes…and it’s awesome! 🙂
How is it different working on an established IP game over say a normal game?
Jay: With an IP game you have a lot more constraints – and sometimes that gives you ideas for mechanics. With Godfather, we knew that there had to be something about making offers that can’t be refused! That was in the game right from the start. Sometimes we’d come up with an idea for the game, but then couldn’t figure out how to fit it in with the IP – so then it gets cut. Our first goal is to make a great game – and a game that does something different. Once that’s done, then we try to squeeze as much of the IP in it that we can. We have an upcoming game called Powers – based on the best-selling comic book, and the base game is a solid game that does some new things – but now we’re adding in more and more aspects from the different storylines in the comics. We don’t ever want to be accused of the theme feeling pasted on – so know that if we designed a game with an IP – we start with the IP as constraints on our design, then we make the best game we can, then we layer in as much of the IP that we can.
When dealing with a big IP like the Godfather, do the movie studios/other of the IP get involved and tell you what you can and can’t do with the game, etc?
Jay: Yes absolutely! There are strict things we’re allowed to do and not do. For Godfather it was pretty simple – we can’t use any images from the movie with the exception of Marlon Brando’s poster image of the Godfather. But for our upcoming Godzilla game there were other restrictions like, Godzilla can’t talk; Godzilla can’t be seen actually killing humans (though they could be inside vehicles that are being destroyed – we just can’t show humans dying!) and Kaiju never die – they merely walk back to Monster Island. We haven’t had a case where they give us direction on game play yet though.
As we wrap this up, I wanted to say congratulations on getting married earlier this year! Seems like it been a very good year for you so far. Any final words as we come to a close, you like to add?
Jay: Hey I want to thank you for your contributions to the board game industry with your interviews and insights! It’s sad that you’re leaving us – but hopefully you’ll pop in from time to time! Who knows – maybe we’ll reconnect on our next Kickstarter project (that’s how Ryan and I met – on the discussion thread for one of our Kickstarter games!). Best of luck to you sir!
Thank you Jay, for taking the time out back when you did years ago – which birthed The Inquisitive Meeple, as well as now for this interview.
With this we conclude our last interview on The Inquisitive Meeple site. Ryan will continue to do interviews over at The Indie Game Report. Thank you for reading.