Join us for this in-depth interview with Tim W.K. Brown, learning the story behind his co-design, Wreck Raiders. For 2-4 players, Wreck Raiders is a dice-drafting worker placement, where you play as treasure hunters diving for treasure at different shipwrecks.
Tim, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Since this is our first interview together, I wanna start out asking you – what made you want to become a board game designer?
Tim: As most designers will tell you, I grew up playing board games a lot with my family and friends and even tried to create a game when I was about ten. I made a board and cards but never actually played it. Years later I was at an early Fan Expo and there was a guy there selling a game he had made. It looked interesting, So I bought it. Once I got it home and played it, I realized that it was a great idea but horribly implemented. I looked at it and said to myself “I can do better than that”. So I set out to do just that. I completed and played my first game a couple months later. I still have it. It’s not great. But it was a lot better than the one that prompted me to make it. I enjoyed the process so much I tried again and again and I’m still stuck in that loop today. 🙂
What are some published games that have been hitting your gaming table lately?
Tim: I try to play as many games as I can. But having limited time and resources, I often only play games once. A few that fall into that category recently are New York 1901, Santorini, Azul, Raiders of the North Sea and Indian Summer. I got a chance to play Scythe with some designer friends and quite enjoyed that. I also have a couple that plays Pandemic Legacy with my wife and I. We’ve been playing it month to month. So January in January, February in February etc. We are on season 2 and really enjoying it. The other thing I do once a month when I can, is go to Snakes & Lattes’ Designer Nights and play other designer’s Prototypes.
We are here today to chat about Wreck Raiders. For those readers out there that don’t know about the game could you tell us about it and the general idea behind the gameplay?
Tim: Basically you run a team of divers raiding treasure from sunken pirate ships. You collect the treasures to fulfill orders from museums. But everyone is trying to fulfill the same orders, so you need to get there first. We used a dice drafting mechanic to choose where you can go and when you go next to someone they get treasure too. At the same time, you are also building up your own collection and creating aquariums. Each area requires you to collect in different ways to get you points in the form of coins. It’s pirates. Of course, the points are gold 🙂
Could you share with us the story behind the creation of Wreck Raiders?
Tim: This game came about in the summer of 2015. Josh lives in Toronto and I’m about a half hour north. So we carpooled home from Gen Con. While I was driving Josh turned to me and said: “Let’s make a game”. So I said, “OK, I have this mechanic I’ve come up with, maybe we can make something from it.” At the time he was negotiating the reprinting of his game Wasabi with Z-Man. They were planning on making a line of food games and it fit right in. So we took some elements from Wasabi and modified my original idea to create a game where you make orders of ice cream. The next year at Gen Con, we pitched it to them and they took it for evaluation. Shortly after that Z-man was sold to Asmodee, their plans changed and they passed. So we kept working on it with the hopes of pitching it to another company. But we never got that far, because Helaina, after playtesting with Josh, decided she wanted it for Kids Table. The only issue was that KTBG didn’t want to do another food game. So they suggested diving for pirate treasure, thinking that theme might work well for their kids and family target market. After some work, we re-themed it to Wreck Raiders. I’m actually very happy we did because in the process we had to change and add a few things to fit the new theme and they turned out sooo much better.
One thing that stands out is how each of the three ways you score at the end of the game (display, vault and an aquarium) feels different when playing. Did you want to purposely make each feel unique?
Tim: Absolutely. If each way of gaining points was the same, why have three different ways? Although I don’t think we set out to specifically create three different ways to collect points. We just created each area in a way that seemed right and thematic for each. We started with the main area of the shipwrecks and exhibits, then added the vault almost immediately so the players could do something else with their treasure. And for a while, that was the whole game. But after a few playtests we realized we have all these Baubles left over, we should add something to do with them. So we added the Aquariums and it worked out great!
Did you find it difficult to make sure that there wasn’t just one route to victory?
Tim: Balance is always an issue. Fortunately, it wasn’t too difficult in this case. We paid attention to the results of playtests and even recorded the scores in each separate area so we could compare. We also played the game with a focus on certain areas to make sure they weren’t too powerful. We had to adjust the values of different areas a few times to get it right and then, of course, play it enough to feel comfortable with the result.
Earlier you mentioned the baubles. Why did you and Josh decide to go that extra step with the baubles and aquarium? I think a lot of games would have just done something like 2 baubles or each set is worth X points and called it a night, but you guys added the aquarium, why?
Tim: That was actually Josh who pushed for that. We kept playing the game and it just seemed to him that we needed something to add a little spice to the game and as I mentioned earlier, we had all these Baubles left over that we wanted to do more with. As an added bonus with the aquariums, we get to showcase the amazing art by Apolline Etienne.
Since we are talking aquariums, I have to ask – in what world can you buy aquariums with human skulls, starfish, and seashells? Heh
Tim: Ha, ha! I never really thought of it that way. To me, it was more that they represented things you find while diving. It’s obviously abstracted a bit to fit the game though. 🙂
The most unique thing about this worker placement is how it works with the possibility to benefit other players. First could you share with readers how that works and then tell us what inspired that mechanic?
Tim: There are four shipwrecks and each of them has six die numbers in a circle with a place to put your divers at each. At the beginning of the round, the dice are rolled and players select one on their turn. Whichever die you choose determines where you can place your diver. So if you pick a 4, you can place on any of the 4’s as long as you don’t already have a diver there. However, if you place your diver on a 4, whoever has divers on the 3 and 5 will also collect a treasure from that wreck even if it’s your own diver. So sometimes you can collect three treasures and sometimes you’ll collect one and two other players will each collect one.
This mechanic is where the game initially started. I’m not sure what inspired it. I just remember having it scribbled down on a piece of paper and showing it to Josh. It has changed significantly since my initial vision though. Originally when you placed, you’d collect for any empty spaces next to you. Which did work, but we wanted more player interaction and the setup was more tedious. So we increased the number of divers and changed it to what you see now and the game is all the better for it.
In Wreck Raiders you get “in style” points if you fulfill a museum order in your display in exact order. The “in style” wording triggers a flashback to Wasabi using that exact term. Is this an old holdover from when the game was a sequel?
Tim: Yes, that was always the term we used. It just sort of stuck 🙂
What was the best piece of feedback given by your playtesters when it came to Wreck Raiders?
Tim: I tend to let comments sit for a while and if in a day, or sometimes a week, it still stands out to me, then I’ll make a change. One such comment for Wreck Raiders had to do with the Aquariums. She felt the scoring was too complicated. At the time, the base’s scores depended on what you added to it. But this comment forced me to re-evaluate that system and after discussing it with Josh, we changed them to straight points to simplify it and give an immediate result to the purchases. This also had the benefit of allowing players to shift and change what pieces they were collecting at any point instead of waiting for the correct one to show up so they could score.
All designs hit snags, what would you say was the greatest hurdle you faced design wise with Wreck Raiders and how did you fix the issue?
Tim: The biggest hurdle was probably the fact that we were co-designing this game and both have our own separate and very busy lives. So getting the info each other had gathered from playtests and making decisions as a team was sometimes difficult. But we met as often as we could and went out of our way to make sure we got together to work out the more major issues. We also kept in touch via text and email. And I recorded the discussions of my first couple of playtests to send to Josh. This was my first collaboration, so it was all new to me. But Josh is very good at collaboration and it showed in this project I think. We had a lot of design sessions that we both came out of in amazement at how much we’d gotten done.
Let’s talk Apolline Etienne illustrations for a second, they really add life to the game. Do you have a favorite one?
Tim: Oh wow, they’re all so great! Probably the Octopus that you might have seen in the banner adds. But there’s a Leafy Sea Dragon that’s pretty cool and a sea turtle with a baby next to it that’s nice as well.
But on the more technical side, she did a great job with the board itself. She created four unique shipwrecks visible as though viewing from above water and added some sea life into the mix. It’s quite well done.
Your favorite part of Wreck Raiders is?
Tim: Other than the artwork, which is Amazing, I’d have to say the worker placement mechanic. The idea that divers next to where you place, also get treasure. Although I’m probably a little biased on that I suppose since it is based on my own original idea. My favourite part that was more Josh’s doing would probably be the dice drafting. It works so well, makes sense mechanically for the game and progresses the player turns so well.
If someone is reading this right now and on the fence on if they should back Wreck Raiders, what would you say to them?
Tim: I would point out that Kids Table has a solid track record of creating excellent games that are really well made and they keep you informed through the whole process. Then I’d tell them not to take my word for it. That they should do their research and have a look at KTBG’s previous Kickstarters and reviews of those games. I would also remind them that there are reviews and playthroughs of this game already that can be found on the Kickstarter page. And if that didn’t convince them, I’d suggest they find a friend they think would enjoy it and try to convince them to back it, so at least they’d get to play it 🙂
What’s one thing you think fans of Wreck Raiders would find interesting that we haven’t covered?
Tim: When we re-themed the game, we completely reworked the way the vault works. When it was ice cream players were making sundaes. But that didn’t make sense with the new theme, so we created the vault system which turned out way better.
If you had to describe Wreck Raiders in 3 adjectives, what would you choose?
As we wrap this up do you have anything else you like to add?
Tim: Come and check out the Kickstarter starting June 26th, or if you are reading this after it’s done, go to kidstablebg.com Readers can also follow myself, Josh or KTBG on twitter. There is sure to be lots of activity over the next few weeks. 🙂
Thanks, Tim, for taking the time out to do this interview. Readers can also see The Inquisitive Meeple‘s in-depth (p)review for Wreck Raiders if they like, by clicking here.
For those that would like to check out Wreck Raiders on Kickstarter, you can do so by clicking here.