Interview with designer, Michael Eskue (Darkrock Ventures and Council of Verona), on his new game (co-designed with Lisa Eskue) – Trash Pandas. A push-your-luck, take that, set collection game that is one of the finalists in the Hasbro Gaming Lab Contest.
Thanks for joining us Michael. With the closing of 2016 just happening, you saw your game Darkrock Ventures comes out. I’ve got to ask, outside of Darkrock – what we your favorite game of 2016?
Michael: Thanks for having me! That’s a tough one, there were a lot of great games in 2016. My favorite, though, is probably 7 Wonders duel. My wife, Lisa, and I have enjoyed 7 Wonders, but most of the games we play are just with each other and 7 Wonders isn’t so great for that. 7 Wonders Duel really captures the feeling of 7 Wonders in a small, 2 player package.
Do you have any designer goals in 2017?
Michael: Hopefully, 2017 will be a year that a bunch of previous designs get some closure. I have a few projects that are in the works, but the focus for the first few months at least will be on finishing up some older stuff. Once we get through May or so, I hope to re-visit some of the designs still in progress and see if we can get some more signed.
Your game, Trash Pandas is currently on Indiegogo. Could you tell us a little bit about what type of game it is and give us an overview on how it is played?
Michael: In Trash Pandas, players are raucous raccoons, tipping over trash cans for food (and shiny objects). Players push their luck to acquire more cards but must stash them in order for them to count as points at the end of the game.
What is the story behind the game’s creation?
Michael: In Trash Pandas, players are raucous raccoons, tipping over trash cans for food (and shiny objects). Players push their luck to acquire more cards, but must stash them in order for them to count as points at the end of the game.
During each turn, you roll a die in the hopes of gaining the benefit of the roll result. With each roll, you decide to keep rolling or stop and activate the dice results. However, with each additional roll, the odds of busting (getting a duplicate result) increase further and you risk losing the progress you’ve made that round. When activating the dice results, you will be drawing cards, stealing cards from other players, and stashing cards. Cards in hand may be used for their listed ability, but only count as points when stashed. When the deck runs out, the game ends and players compare their stashes to see who has the majority for each card type and score points accordingly. The player with the most points, wins!
What are some of the decisions players will be faced with when playing Trash Pandas?
Michael: Aside from how far to press their luck, players make some other decisions throughout the game. Most cards have an action as well as a point value, so players must decide which is more valuable to them throughout the game. Using a card’s action may help you to collect or stash more cards, but the type of cards you stash will really determine your score. There is a fair amount of player interaction as well, so players decide whom to interact with and when it is most beneficial.
You actually decided to self-publish this game, which is a first for you why did you choose to self-publish this time around. Also, why did you decide to go IndieGogo over the more traditionally used Kickstarter?
Michael: We had to keep some details secret, but now that the campaign is live, we can reveal what led up to this endeavor. We entered Trash Pandas in the Hasbro Face to Face Design challenge earlier this year on a whim. Right before heading to BGG.con in November, we received notice that we were one of the five finalists. This was huge news, but we had to keep it secret. We haven’t previously run a crowd-funding campaign so this was all new territory. It felt like a baby bird getting prodded out of the nest. We didn’t think much about self-publishing before, but now we were diving right in. Regarding the venue, Indiegogo has teamed up with Hasbro so that’s where the campaigns run for the contest. We have previously used Kickstarter as backers and had our games run there, but Indiegogo is fairly similar so it was easy to figure it out. Also, we were provided with mentors and other guidance in creating the campaign. The entire experience has been amazing and it’s been great to meet and work with the awesome people at Hasbro and Indiegogo.
When designing Trash Pandas, what do you think was the most interesting choice you had to make when developing the game, from a designer standpoint?
Michael: Once we found that we would be “self-publishing” the game, we started getting quotes for production. The bulk of the components was six custom dice and we looked for ways to use fewer dice since those were heavy and more expensive. We went through a few different ideas using cubes and tokens that are placed on a board, but eventually settled on a simpler system where players just take the token that matches their dice roll. The main focus was not just about cutting costs; we were fully prepared to use more expensive components if it meant for a better game. However, by exploring that, we ended up with something that made the game flow better overall.
What was the most challenging part of designing the game?
Michael: The biggest challenge was probably the balance of the card abilities and values. Each card has a different quantity, but also has a different ability and point value. We wanted to keep the overall perceived value of all the cards about the same. Each card is different enough to optimize certain situations and we are happy with how everything balanced out.
What was the biggest lesson you learned in designing Trash Pandas?
Michael: The biggest lesson is probably to keep things simple. The game went through several iterations and the complexity fluctuated. The more interesting elements found their place, but the overly complicated scoring was removed.
When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the proudest that you designed this game?
Michael: I think it’s the overall package. There is luck in the game, but also a lot of meaningful decisions. The game has player interaction and can be enjoyed differently by different groups. Some may prefer the more cutthroat elements, but they are optional, plus they can always backfire, which is amusing.
If you had to describe Trash Pandas in 3 adjectives, what would you choose?
Michael: That’s a tough one. Maybe: amusing, cunning, and interactive
As we wrap this up, is there anything else you would like to add?
Michael: Keep an eye out for more games Lisa and I have designed. 2017 might be a big year and if all goes well, Titan Dice and Ballistic Reign well be coming out soon. Also, I’ll be a guest at the Arizona Game Fair in Mesa January 21st, and a guest at Orccon in Los Angeles in February. If you are there, come say “hi” and let’s play some games!
Thanks Michael for taking time out to do this interview.