Today we start the first of many in our Game Designer Interview Series where we delve into the master minds behind the great games that Renegade has to offer.
Our first interview is with Christopher Chung, designer of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival. Lanterns is one of the newest offerings by Renegade and just won the Mensa Select Award!
First of all, how does it feel that Lanterns has won the Mensa Select Award?
Winning the Mensa Select Award was surreal! All my friends had tweeted or posted about it before I even had a chance to sit down at my computer! I'm truly ecstatic that the Mensa Judges gave it their illustrious award and I can't wait to see it on the cover of future boxes. It's another level of confirmation that we made something great, and I'm equally happy that Lanterns followed up last year's winner, Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension. Corey Young is one of my game design friends and for us to win the award in back to back years for Renegade Game Studios is amazing. We're gonna go celebrate next time he's in Toronto!
How long have you been playing games and what was the first game you ever played?
I've been playing modern board games for a few years now, but growing up I was surrounded by the classic games we all grew to love (and loathe!) like Scrabble, Monopoly, Battleship, Perfection, and Chess. I think Chess happened to be the first board game I played and enjoyed, and I was even part of a chess club at one time. From then on my tastes evolved into Texas Hold’em and then I was introduced to Catan and my life was changed forever.
Do you have a favorite game or type of game?
I prefer light to medium games that families can enjoy. My favorite games are simple yet strategic and provide moments of joy and excitement. My favorite game of all time is Ticket to Ride by Alan R. Moon & Days of Wonder. The game actually served as a huge inspiration of Lanterns as the game revolved around such a tightly woven system. I love the simple yet strategic concept of performing one action per turn. It engages players to strategize when to perform which action based on what their opponents are plotting. When you place your train routes, you feel a huge sense of accomplishment knowing that you’re that much closer to finishing your Tickets, and I love that feeling.
What inspired you to start designing games?
It may sound very strange, but I dreamt that I designed a thematic card game full of fantastic battles and magical spells. I was playing with friends and family and they all really loved it. Fast forward to the morning and I wrote down everything I could remember about the game, and I prototyped it as soon as possible. Using all the knowledge I could find on the internet, I playtested it with friends, family, and strangers, and they all liked it, up until I went way beyond my original scope. The game became too clunky and too confusing, so I ended up scrapping the game altogether but I kept going as a designer. I started to switch my focus to lighter games that I could design concurrently and that my playtesters would enjoy more than my original behemoth of a game, but I have that dream to thank because otherwise I wouldn’t have ever thought about becoming a designer at all!
How long were you working on the original design of the game before it got picked up?
Around 8 months before I pitched it to Randy Hoyt of Foxtrot Games, I was working on the original design, which was then called Blossom. I was participating in a game jam with my peers, and the prompt that the game jam had for its participants was “Perspective”. I thought, “How could I develop a board game around ‘perspective’?” It finally dawned on me that the theme did not have to be about ‘perspective’; the mechanics could. From that game jam the main mechanics of Lanterns were born: The tile placement and resources given to each player, and the trading in of resources in various sets to gain victory points. I was very happy with this design because I've never seen a game involve where players were sitting in respect to the game, and I loved the concept of all players benefiting from every player’s turn.
Who do you most frequently play/test games with?
I play games with mainly my younger cousins whenever we get together for family occasions. We used to always play video games as a group, taking turns to play, but it was often not as fun as playing something together. When I furthered myself in the hobby, I started collecting games and introducing them to my cousins, and now all we do is play games when there’s a gathering!
I test my games more often with other designers that I've met and befriended in and around Toronto. A lot of them were members of the Game Artisans of Canada, which I eventually joined, but it was amazing to learn that Canadian game designers were coming together to help playtest each other’s games and evangelize the board game designing community here. At Snakes & Lattes’, a board game café, we have a Designers’ Night every month, and all we do is play our prototypes with each other and talk shop. It’s encouraging to see more designers come out to these events now to try their hands at designing games, and for us “veterans” we’re now making an even bigger splash in this industry. Folks I look up to like Stephen Sauer, Joshua Cappel, Sen Foong-Lim, Jay Cormier, Daryl Andrews, Daniel Rocchi – I love playtesting with them because they provide excellent feedback and they’re not afraid to say what you might not want to hear! I always try my best to provide helpful feedback for their designs and the relationships that we create can lead to more opportunities for all our games to be evaluated by publishers.
What part of the game are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the tile placement and the feature of all players gaining Lantern cards on every turn (if they’re available). The game is so simple yet this twist of giving opponents something that you necessarily don’t want them to have yet is very satisfying. The downtime is significantly reduced as players are constantly paying attention to what their opponents are giving them, then strategies are changed from turn to turn.
What mechanic or part of the game would you have refused to change?
The one mechanic I would’ve refused to change was the part I was most proud of! I did not want the essence of the game altered, as everyone I playtested the game with felt it was a huge success. Not bad for two days of work!
What was your favorite part of the game development process?
As much as playtesting can be a slog, it was my favorite part with Lanterns because I’ve enjoyed explaining the game and then playing with others and seeing their eyes light up when they figure out their strategies and capitalizing on their opportunities. The game has such a welcoming appeal that catches many attention of onlookers because of its colorful nature and so playtesting was definitely a breeze!
How hard was it to switch the name/theme from flowers to lanterns?
At first I was hesitant about changing the theme. Flowers have always been such a universal theme for me that would appeal to everyone. I knew that some people would disregard the game simply because flowers are not as interesting as other fantastical themes but I had a hard time picturing the game as anything else. I had discussed the possibility of a re-theme with my Artisan friends and they said to trust in the publisher, so I let Randy go ahead with the change, and as soon as he suggested that it would be about Lanterns, my mind instantly switched from hesitant to excited, and I was immediately sold.
Is there anything that you would change in the final game?
I wouldn’t change a thing! Not to say that it’s a perfect game and I think nothing’s wrong with it, but I think we were able to create something that fits what many audiences would play and enjoy. Any other change would upset the balance and the elegance we achieved.
What advice/tips would you give to aspiring game designers?
It’s not always about what you know, it’s about who you know as well. You may have the greatest game since Monopoly and if you don’t have the network that will help you playtest, refine, and help you open doors, it’ll just be another opportunity lost. Creating a social media identity (Twitter has been amazing) and finding a consistent playtesting group will be invaluable to your endeavor. It also means that you have to give back to your community as well: engaging in discussions and playtesting other designers’ games will be some of the ways you can develop working relationships with your peers.
What is the one thing you know now that you wish you had known about prior to going into game design?
I wish I had known about the time commitment that you have towards making a game! There’s so many facets of a game: prototyping, sourcing components, developing rules, making connections, playtesting (playtesting, playtesting), making corrections, creating sell sheets, finding publishers, pitching – it’s a very long and arduous road, but I knew that if I gave the hours to honing my craft and seeking my passion, it’ll pay off in spades, and the success of Lanterns so far has been really overwhelming. It reaffirms the sacrifices I've made have been for the better and I’m happy that I’m able to share my creation with the world.
Can we expect to see more games from you soon and if so, what?
I have a few more games in the pipeline in various stages but nothing with publishers right now. I hope to get these prototypes ready for the next opportunity I have to speak with them!
Thank you Chris for taking the time to speak with us! And look for our next interview, coming soon!