We talk to Joshua Mills about his new game, Rocky Road a la Mode. For 2-4 players, in Rocky Road, players … “Get in the driver seat and feel what it’s like to live the life of a sweet treat trucker! Stock up your truck, attract customers, and serve a hefty scoop of tasty frozen delight! The best truckers get to know their customers’ favorite selections so that they can always meet demand and gain an edge over the competition in the battle to claim the hottest locations. You’ll see the business of icy entrepreneurship is no day at the beach. Buckle up, turn on the loudspeaker, and take to the rocky road…with ice cream!”

Josh, could you share a little with us about yourself and what got you into tabletop gaming?

Josh: I live in Durham, NC and once got a hammer stuck in my head. I’ve worked in the video game industry for the past decade doing stints at Epic, Relevant Game and Insomniac Games. I have always been interested in games in all their forms. I remember designing a gambling game in daycare and running the table. My sister-in-law introduced me to Catan and I immediately started thinking of table top game designs. I somehow found out about a 54 card game challenge put on by Dice Hate Me. I spent the whole X-mas break designing and haven’t stopped.

What are some games that are hitting your table lately?

Josh: I have been on an Alexander Pfister kick lately getting Oh My Goods and Isle of Sky to the table often. I just recently played Mombassa for the first time and it won’t be the last. Takenoko (the panda game) always seems to get on the table as well.

When adding to your collection, what do you look for in a game?

Josh: I have slowed down a bit recently but I look for a compelling element be it theme, new mechanic, or pretty art. A lot of times when I have an idea for a game I’ll seek out games with similar concepts to see how the designer approached them.

Your game, Rocky Road a la Mode, is currently on Kickstarter. Could you tell us a little bit about what type of game it is and give us an overview on how it is played?

Josh: In Rocky Road a la Mode, you take on the role of ice cream truck owner. Play music to attract customers, serve them their favorite treat, and lay claim to the hottest locations. Buckle up, turn on the loudspeaker, and take to the rocky road! Features Mulit-use cards, Time Track, and the Splendor thingy.

What is the story behind the game’s creation?

Josh: I set out to specifically create a game for my wife. She was really into the multi-use cards in Isle of Trains and the punch it packs in 54ish cards. The next thing I needed was a theme. I initially conceived the game as a card version of my dice game Milkman. I was stuck at this phase for a long time, challenging myself to come up with something interesting visually. Then one day the concept of sliding a card up underneath another to track the player serving customers popped in my mind. The Milk truck became an ice cream truck and I was off to the races. Conceiving the action was quick but how to allow players to take them was another challenge. I didn’t want to do dice because I wanted that portability of a card game so I let things stew in my mind some more. One evening my wife and I played patchwork reminding me time tracks are super fun. That week I finally made the first prototype, knowing I was leaving for Grandcon in 5 days.

My first reaction seeing the game in person and learning the rules was this is like if Patchwork and Splendor had an ice cream baby. You have the movement on the track similar to how Patchwork works. However you then have permanent treats and location cards which work like Splendor (and the Noble cards). Did those games influence you, and did any other games influence you?

Josh: Of course Splendor and Patchwork influenced Rocky Road along with Isle of Trains (and every game I have ever played for that matter). I started with the hook of sliding a card under another card to represent serving customers but knew I need a reward besides just VP on cards. I like the Splendor engine building system but the theme (what theme?) never really did anything for me. Splendor fell flat with my wife but I thought she would still like the type of system it if was just easier to get into on a thematic level. I also like how Isle of Trains was a card game but had a board and a time track would allow me to do that same thing.

In the game you added wilds (Rocket Pops) on the time track. What do you feel they add to them game?

Josh: I wanted something on the time track that would entice player to push forward even if it went against their long term strategy. In the words I hope the rocket pops create a little bit of tension.

So there are no fudgesicles, ice cream sandwiches, chocolate covered ice cream on a stick or may other types of treats. Why did you settle for just 3 frozen treats, was this because of the 54 card limit you set for yourself?

Josh: First I love me a fudgesicle. I decided on 3 frozen treat because it allows players to focus more on quantity than type needed. Limiting it to 3 helps give players choices when deciding what cards to discard. If you say had 6 types of treats player wouldn’t feel as comfortable using a card they may need because of the decreased likely hood of it being available next turn. Also expansions. 

A slight follow up on that, the cover has a nice chocolate/rocky road ice cream cone on it – yet it is no where to be found in the gameplay, what is up with that?

Josh: This question make me feel like I just got in trouble in school. 

One of the stretch goals is several frozen treat tokens for variants. could you tell us a little bit about how those variants will work?

Josh: The frozen treat tokens work in the same way as the rocket pops but now you’ll just have way more on the track. They can only be turned in for whatever type they are unlike the rocket pop who can be turned in as anything.

 What can you tell us about how the micro game, Dice Cream, you guys are offering at the $25 level works and how it came about?

Josh passed this question on to Dice Cream designer, Nat Levan:

Nat: We were at Salt Con and I had shown Josh a bunch of other single card versions of games. Later that day, we got a chance to play Rocky Road, and unsurprisingly I loved it. Josh said that I totally needed to make a version of Rocky Road, and because I liked it so much, I started thinking about it.

We talked out some early design ideas together, keeping a few core parts, like the turn order track. I think the key was deciding to use dice to randomize the demand. That suggested the title “Dice Cream.” Which works even better if you say it quickly so the d’s from “road” and “dice” blend together. Another nice addition was the advanced rule where you can upgrade to collect more resources was a fun twist to bring the engine building into it.

It’s easier to adapt your own design, because you know everything that you intended to be part of the game. When you’re working off of someone else’s has to meet their standards as well as your own. That’s something I was really design, there is more pressure. You are representing someone else’s work, so it worried about, but Josh is an amazing designer to collaborate with, which made it easy. After I showed it to him, he wanted something to make the dice rolls more exciting, which isn’t an angle I would have considered designing by myself. So I got to take his ideas and it really added a lot to the game.

Josh also helped out on the back end, too. The intent was always to show Dice Cream to Jason Kotarski as a potential promo, and thanks to Josh’s prodding behind the scenes, Jason and sat and played at Unpub 6. Jason is a great publisher, so without Josh’s encouragement and intervention, I wouldn’t have gotten this chance to work with Green Couch Games. There were a few more iterations based on the plays at Unpub, trying to add more variation and interest in rolling the dice, and thanks to that feedback from Jason, I was able to simplify the rules a bit. So even on something this small, you can’t overlook the need for playtesting and being open to the publisher’s feedback. 

We basically signed via handshake agreement at UNPUB, and I sent the updated version so he could get Adam McIver to do the updated art. And let me say that Adam really knocked it out of the park on the art. I knew basically how I wanted it to look, but Adam’s work is a hundred times better than I even imagined it would look.

Note: If you like to learn more about Dice Cream, you can read some more about it at Nat's blog, by clicking here. Also, keep an eye out for Nat's article on Dice Cream that The Inquisitive Meeple will be publishing sometime hopefully during the Rocky Road Kickstarter.

So, for those that don’t know there is a running joke on Social Media about you and your love of dairy games (you have another dairy game you have worked on). What is it about dairy that you love so much?

Josh: You are speaking of my dice game Milkman. Lets talk about milk for a second. It is delicious. I love coming in after mowing the lawn on a hot summer day and cooling off with a tall glass of whole milk. No 2% in this house. My goal is to be crowned the King of Diary. Cheese is up next so stay tuned.

If you had an actual ice cream truck business what would you call it?

Josh: Milkman Mills: Ice Cream and Frozen Treats

We can’t talk Ice Cream without me asking – what is your favorite flavor of ice cream is?

Josh: This is a very hard question. I love Americone Dream from Ben & Jerry’s but you can never go wrong with a Neapolitan. It a little something for everyone.

Has there ever been a flavor of ice cream you come across and you say – no way I will ever try that?

Josh: Nope, I’ll try anything once. I will say Ameritrash and Souless Euro both sound like some pretty bad flavors.

Sugar Cone, Waffle Cone, Cake Cone or Cup?

Josh: Cake cone to eat but waffle cone for volume. Get sugar cone out of there.

How does the 2-player game differ in rules or overall feel compared to 4-player game?

Josh: All the rules for 2-player are exactly the same as in other player counts. The biggest difference is you need to pay much more attention to what cards are available. Leaving the perfect card at the perfect time out for your opponent is not a solid strategy for winning.

Green Couch is publishing the game, what has been your favorite part of working with them?

Josh: The energy they have brought to the project has been great. At Unpub Jason made a point to get himself, me and artist Adam McIver together to play the prototype. Getting to play the game in person with all the key decision makers made it really easy for everyone to come together to create a shared vision.

When you were still prototyping Rocky Road, what was the best piece of feedback you received from a playtester?

Josh: Well Jason played the game as a playtester at Grandcon 5 days after I made the first prototype so I’d say the best feedback was can I publish this. The best feedback comes from the Game Designers of North Carolina, a local design group that is an invaluable asset in my game design process.

I imagine you tried various things as you were prototyping. Was there any one thing that was particularly hard to cut?

Josh: I initially wanted player to have multiple trucks each with their own upgrade upgrade tweet. I would’t say it was hard to cut because it was obviously to much for the game i was creating. 

What was your favorite part of designing the game?

Josh: The first day I made a prototype, played it with my wife, made another prototype, played it with my wife, made another prototype, and played it with my wife. The game went from an idea to something that was really working in the 5 hours while she watched Gilmore Girls.

What was the most challenging part of designing it?

Josh: Anytime you have so much information on a card, how that information is presented becomes super important. I’m not saying it has to be pretty but it does have to allow players to understand what they need to know. It was challenging for me to capture all that and make it streamlined enough for the prototype.

What was the biggest lesson you learned in designing Rocky Road?

Josh: If you feel in your gut something is there even with the smallest of idea, don’t stop pushing on it. Eventually the stars will align (you’ll play Patchwork) and it will come together.

What is one thing we haven’t covered today that you think fans of Rocky Road would find interesting?

Josh: If you are lactose intolerant, it is still safe to play my games, I promise. #Milk4Life

When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the most proud that you designed Rocky Road?

Josh: Watching my wife play it. Sorry rest of the world you are just not as cool.

If you had to describe Rocky Road in 3 adjectives, what would you choose?

Josh: Wholesome, colorful, delicious

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

Josh: To everyone that has made it so fun to be a part of this community, thank you.

Thanks Josh for taking time out to talk with us.

For those interested in the Rocky Road Kickstarter, you can find it here by clicking on this link.

For anyone interested in an in-depth (p)review that The Inquisitive Meeple did for Rocky Road, click here.