Interview with Steve Finn (aka Dr Finn) behind his new game, Herbaceous coming from Pencil First Games. For up to 4-players, in “… Herbaceous, herb collectors compete to grow and store the most valuable medley of herbs.”
Steve, you seem like you are on a hot streak right now – with Butterfly Garden recently shipped out, Slush Fund 2 having a successful Kickstarter and C.O.G. coming soon to Kickstarter. However, we are here today to talk about a game that has quite a bit of buzz around it. It looks like it may be as popular for you (if not more) than Biblios. That game of course is Herbaceous, 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?
Steve: Herbaceous is my most accessible game design to date and it is designed to be a light, but fun, filler. It is primarily a push-your-luck set collection card game. The basic idea is that you are a gardener that is growing herbs in both a public and a private garden. The herbs in the public garden are available to anyone, but those in your private garden are yours. At the start of your turn, you can use one of the 4 pots you own to pot herbs (i.e., collect them from the public/private garden). Each pot has a different requirement. So, for example, one pot is used to collect different herbs, while another is for pairs, and so on. At the game’s start, the gardens are empty, so this option is available as the gardens grow, which occurs in the second part of your turn. In this part, I used the Biblios mechanic of drawing cards, one at a time, and then deciding what to do with them. However, in this case, it’s very simple: you draw a card and decide to put it in your own garden or in the public garden. Then, you draw a second card and it goes in the location not chosen for the first card. So, the tension arises because you have to decide whether to collect herbs early, before others take them, but if you take them too early, the point values are quite low. Since you can only use each pot once per game, you have to pick your potting times carefully.
What is the story behind the game’s creation and did it always have an herb collecting theme to it?
Steve: Interestingly, my friend Ed Baraf sent me pictures of the herb cards, which his friend, Beth Sobel, had drawn. He basically asked, “Could you make a game with these?” This is the kind of question that I love and cannot say no to. So, it’s always been an herb game.
The gameplay that sticks out from normal set collecting is that you there have four different containers to put your sets in – each container has its own rules as to what it can store and even give different VP depending on how many go in, etc. I guess the question I am trying to ask is what inspired this new idea?
Steve: I’m not sure where the idea of different kinds of sets came from. Perhaps it was just something I unintentionally took from other games, like Sushi Go, for example.
There is a special bonus card in the game called the “Bun” – how does it work and why does it “spice” up the gameplay?
Steve: There are 3 copies of each of the 3 special herbs, numbered 1, 2, and 3 for a total of 9 cards. If you can collect a 1, 2, and 3 and put them in your special pot, you can earn the bun. So, players must be on the lookout for these cards.
What do you feel having both a personal garden and a community garden brings to the gameplay that wouldn’t be there if only one was used in the game?
Steve: The community garden is necessary because it creates the whole tension of the game. Since players can take from the community garden, suspense is created as the garden grows…who will harvest the herbs first? By having your own personal garden, tension is created (as in Biblios), when you are drawing cards and deciding what to do with them, i.e., whether to keep it or put it in the community garden. Remember, you have to put one card in the private garden and one in the community garden each turn.
How does the 2-player game differ in rules or overall feel compared to 4-player game?
Steve: In the 2-player game, you can be a little more aggressive in delaying your potting because you get an opportunity every other turn. However, with 4 players, the timing is much more challenging, because there are 3 other people, all of whom have their own private gardens, so you have to figure out who is planning on taking the herbs, and which herbs, from the public garden before you.
What has been your favorite part of working with Eduardo and Pencil First Games and just how did you guys get hooked up together?
Steve: A few months ago, I met Ed in person after having had numerous email exchanges that began after he reviewed Biblios. During that meeting (actually, it was a gaming session at my friend’s house), we discussed the possibility of working together on a game. Then, he sent me the herb cards and the process had begun. I’ve liked working with him on this because he has a knack for running a project and pulling the right people together. He also has a good eye for art and design.
We have to talk about Beth Sobel’s art for a second. It is amazing, and certainly gives the game at “wow” factor that makes people want to stop and see what this game is. Do you have a favorite piece of art?
Steve: I have no particular favorite of all the herbs, but it’s the whole package that I find amazing. The cards look so beautiful together. I’ve been very happy with other artists I have worked with on my own games, but Beth’s work really stands out.
When you were still prototyping Herbaceous, what was the best piece of feedback you received from a playtester?
Steve: I think it was having a bonus for getting a specific set of cards for the special pot. I cannot remember who gave me that idea, but I love Ed’s contribution about having a “bun” card represent the bonus. It’s a very nice touch.
What was the most challenging part of designing it?
Steve: The most challenging was finding the right values for the different sets. This took a lot of tweaking, but I think I finally got it right.
What was the biggest lesson you learned in designing Herbaceous?
Steve: This was a very easy game to design, so I’m not sure I learned any big lessons. I do think having super nice art is much more valuable as a way to draw attention to the game, so I may wish to put more resources into artwork for future games. I’ve almost always designed games around the mechanics, as I am personally a lot more interested in the mechanics of a game than the art. However, I am beginning to see that you need both great art and solid mechanics.
When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the most proud that you designed Herbaceous?
Steve: I’m proud that I was able to complete the challenge of designing an interesting and fun game that appeals to gamers and non-gamers alike with the beautiful artwork provided.
I have to ask – with this talk of herb gardening – does Dr. Finn have a green thumb?
Steve: Not at all. I did make a raised garden bed for my wife to do some gardening, but that’s the extent of it for me.
Soon you’ll have another game hitting Kickstarer – C.O.G. What can you tell us about this game and when we can expect to see it on Kickstarter?
Steve: I am very excited about C.O.G. because it is a departure from my “filler” game designs and I think it is a genuinely unique combination of mechanics. This is a serious, medium-heavy weight eurogame that combines a worker placement mechanic with a crossword puzzle. I often describe it as Scrabble meets Castles of Burgandy. Although it is a “crossword” game, knowledge of words does not play any role in the game. There are a handful of “permitted” words that can be spelled on your player tableau. The game has a steampunk theme, so these words are all steampunk related: aether, pulley, gear, cog, iron, etc. In the game, each player has their own crossword board upon which letters will be placed, as in Scrabble, to spell the target words for the game. Each player has 4 “cogs” (i.e., workers) and these are placed in turn order to take resources from a main board. The resources include letters, dice, action cards, and turn order. The dice are used to move around another board, whose spaces provided various bonuses. The cards do all sorts of things and provide players with interesting powers. Some of the cards also require that you pick specific dice, so players can sometimes create a cascading effect of powers with the dice and cards. I’ve been doing a lot of playtesting and the game is now almost complete. The artist has been doing an excellent job with it and I’m hoping it will result in my biggest Kickstarter yet.
As we wrap this up, is there anything else you would like to add?
Steve: I’d like to point out that Dr. Finn’s Games has now had 9 successful Kickstarter campaigns. All but one was been completed on time and the one late was only by a month or so. If readers of this article are not familiar with my games, I request that they go to my webpage www.doctorfinns.com to check them out, read reviews, and watch videos. All of my games have quite high average ratings on www.boardgamegeek.com. Many reviewers point out that my games appeal to both gamers and non-gamers alike. As I am an independent game designer and publisher, I really rely on word-of-mouth to increase the reach of my audience. So I request, that you please tell others about Dr. Finn’s Games.
Thanks Steve for taking the time out to do this interview.