Interview with Mark O’Connor about his card game, Yes! Broccoli!

Mark, thanks for joining us today to talk about Yes! Broccoli! which will be hitting the market soon. Could you share with our readers about what the game is about and the general idea behind the gameplay?

Mark: Yes! Broccoli! is a family card game for 2-5 players ages 6+ in which players bid to acquire the healthiest foods. The game takes 10-30 minutes to play, depending on the number of players and whether the basic or advanced rules are used. The game components consist of three types of cards: food cards (which are worth points), bid cards (which are used to acquire food cards), and power cards (which are used in the advanced game and provide special powers).

The object of Yes! Broccoli! is to have the most total points in food cards at the end of eight rounds. At the beginning of the game, the deck of food cards is shuffled and placed in the center of the play area and each player is given a set of 1-8 bid cards to use. At the start of each round, a number of food cards are drawn equal to the number of players, and those cards are available to be bid on that round. Each player secretly chooses one of their bid cards to bid on the available foods. After all the bids are simultaneously revealed, the winning bidder chooses first from the available foods, the second-highest bidder chooses second, and so on until each player has received one of the foods. Some particularly unhealthy foods are worth negative points, so players really don’t want to get stuck with those. Each player places their newly acquired food card into their score pile and their used bid card in their discard pile. Players can only use each bid card once per game, so they have to judge carefully when to use their highest bid cards.

What is the story behind the creation of the game?

Mark: My wife was reading books about nutrition like How Not to Die and telling me about them, and we would sometimes watch short videos together on the topic. The common thread amongst all the books and videos was what a big impact simply eating better could have on your health (and that some foods are not as healthy as you think—I’m looking at you cheese), so I decided to make a game for kids that encouraged healthy eating. Early on I settled on bidding as the key mechanism of Yes! Broccoli! and considered different ways of doing that before ending up with the final version. I also wanted to make sure the game was affordable to make, so I limited myself to just cards as components (and no more than would fit in a tuck box).

While refining the gameplay, I also came up with ideas for the art, wrote art descriptions, and searched for an artist whose style and preferred medium would fit my vision for the game. I feel that for kid’s games the look and theme of the game are especially important and felt that my vision for Yes! Broccoli! encompassed more than game mechanics. I also I wanted to make sure female characters were well-represented and doing cool stuff (for example, being a ninja or a pirate) in the art. During my search for an artist, I was lucky to come across Nivea Toliver’s work and commission her to do the art for my game. She did an amazing job, and I love how the art turned out.

Yes! Broccoli!  is for ages 6 and up. Since it has a young age attached to it, are there still things in the game that adult gamers will enjoy, either with children or without? Or is this primarily a children’s game?

Mark: My goal for Yes! Broccoli! was to design a game for kids that adults would enjoy playing, too. I have received positive responses from both children and adults who have played the game, so I think I achieved that. The game is intentionally short and light so that younger kids can play it successfully and remain engaged, but players make meaningful decisions every round so that the game is interesting to older players as well. The fun art also appeals to both children and adults. In fact, there are some references in the art that only adults will probably get.

The game works so that adult players bring their own complexity to the game. Adults playing the game can use more complex bidding strategies, increasing the challenge for each other. As in poker, players can attempt to play the players, not just the game. The question of what to bid becomes not only how much do I want (or wish to avoid) a particular food card that is available right now, but what bid cards do the other players have left, what do I think the other players are going to bid, how low can I bid and still get the card I want, and if I bid high will my high card be overbid and be wasted.

The advanced rules for the game also add in power cards, which players can include to increase the complexity of the game. In the advanced rules, each player is randomly dealt two power cards that they can play during the course of the game. A power card might double the value of a bid card (so a “5” bid card would become a “10”), or make lower bid cards win, or replace a food card a player just took with a random one from the food deck. Power cards add an additional factor for players to consider.

When adults and kids are playing together, the power cards and optional value “9” bidding cards can provide a means of balancing out differing skill levels between the players. A child player with a “9” instead of a “1” bid card and a couple of simple power cards to throw a wrench into the adults’ plans can pose a challenge to adult players to everyone’s enjoyment.

Did any games influence you when making Yes! Broccoli!!?

Mark: I would say a lot of different games I’ve played influenced Yes! Broccoli! in one way or another. For Sale, Rockband Manager, Planet Steam, and more traditional card games like Auction Forty Fives all have bidding mechanics, plus sometimes having the high bid in a round in Yes! Broccoli! feels like winning a trick. Bohnanza and Sushi Go have fun food people. Sushi Go also has a relatively low level of complexity that can be increased by adding in cards. Trading card games like Magic: The Gathering have cards that create one-off effects that can dramatically change the game, like power cards can in the advanced rules for Yes! Broccoli!. So all these games and others, as well as children’s games of various sorts, kind of percolated in my brain while I was coming up with Yes! Broccoli!

You mentioned above, your artist, Nivea Toliver, whose art really makes the game stand out. Do you have a favorite illustration from the game?

Mark: The mushroom art is probably my favorite, although I really like the fish rockstar and zucchini stage magician, too. I like the mushroom vampire sending out his little mushroom bats to do his bidding and, like spores, to make more mushroom vampires. I particularly like the different facial expressions on the bats. I’ve found that people all have different favorites, though. One person I showed the game to cracked up when he saw the blueberry ninja, others of a certain age appreciated the chips motorcycle patrol, and others really liked the cheese.

The game isn’t just healthy food either. There are negative cards (junk food) you are trying to avoid. Why did you add that into the gameplay? 

Mark: The idea for the junk food cards (worth negative points) came from the theme. I wanted to include a range of foods from the very unhealthy to the very healthy (which ended up being from the soda to the broccoli). I could have given the food cards all positive values by making the soda worth 1 point and all the other food cards higher values, but that seemed misleading and counter to my purpose for creating the game. No matter how many sodas a person drinks, the sodas will never provide the nutrition the healthy foods do. Making the junk food cards worth negative points reflects that. The more a player gets them, the more the player goes in the hole. Junk food cards also add an interesting dynamic and feel to the game by giving players a menace to run away from rather than a goal to head towards. In rounds where junk food cards show up, players are sometimes more concerned with avoiding the lowest card than they are with getting the highest one. This mindset can happen in rounds with all positive food cards, too, where there is a large difference in the point values of the cards, but getting negative points feels worse.

Earlier you mentioned the advanced cards – the power cards. Do you have a personal favorite one? 

Mark: The “Stomach Stuff” power card is my favorite, named for when your stomach is feeling a little unreliable, perhaps from a stomach bug. The card allows the player to replace one bid card in play with a random food card from the deck. That food card becomes the bid card for the round. You can play the power card to potentially increase your bid by a bunch (possibly to an “18” if you draw a broccoli) or lower an opponents bid (possibly to a “-8” if you draw a soda), but it’s not a sure thing. There’s a dramatic moment, like drawing a card in blackjack, when the player draws the food card and finds out whether the card helps or not.

What 3 adjectives would you choose to describe the gameplay of Yes! Broccoli!?

Mark: I would describe the gameplay of Yes! Broccoli! as light, quick, and family-friendly.

That game will be out soon. If someone wants to pick up a copy of the game, how do they go about doing that?

Mark: The best way to get a copy of Yes! Broccoli! will be to order it from my website I plan to sell the game through Amazon, too, but the Gangway Games website will be selling it first. I am also in talks with local Minneapolis/St. Paul game stores to sell Yes! Broccoli! in their shops, so people in the twin cities might be able to find it at their local game store.

As we wrap this up, is there anything else you would like to add?

Mark: Thank you for interviewing me. It’s my first interview for Yes! Broccoli!, so that’s pretty exciting. I hope people enjoy playing my game and that after playing it they eat a tiny bit better

Thank you again, Mark!