Designer Interview Series - Corey Young

In our second installment of our Designer Interview Series, we have Corey Young, designer of Gravwell, recent winner of the Origins Fan's Choice Award! 

First of all, what does winning the Fan’s Choice Award at Origins mean to you and how is it different or similar to winning the Mensa Select Award?

Winning the Origins Fan’s Choice Award was an exciting loop on the Gravwell ride. While similarly thrilling and gratifying, the experiences were about as different as could be imagined.

I heard about the Mensa Select win while sitting alone in my home office, spamming the refresh button on my Twitter feed. For the Origins Award, I was sitting, overdressed, at the awards dinner with my beautiful wife, and the wonderful crew from Renegade Game Studios.

Also different was the fact that, to my knowledge, I didn't know any of the Mensa Mind Games attendees who voted for the Mensa Select. In contrast, I know many people who eagerly voted for, and got many others to vote for, Gravwell for the Origins Award. I’m deeply grateful to both voting groups, but it's easier for me to directly thank the latter.

How much different was the final version of Gravwell different from the original concept?

The core movement evolved out of a scoring mechanism from a larger design. When it became clear that the movement was more interesting than the rest of the game, I moved it to the center and jettisoned the rest. There was another variation between the original game and the prototype that I pitched. That version had only 21 cards, allowed only 3 players, and had a much different draft mechanism, more like the one found in 7 Wonders.

The prototype was very close to the published game, with a few exceptions.

  • The N card was still a repulsor, but it repulsed 9 spaces. That led to many wins using it. We nerfed that.
  • The original track was a wavy line instead of a spiral. How I missed that obvious choice is beyond me.
  • The draft was a bit different, with stacks of 1, 2 and 3 cards each.

 I credit Matt Hyra for the excellent refinement.

Was there any particular inspiration of the movement mechanic?

The movement is based on the swarming motion of insects and birds. Single members might swing wide of the flock or swarm, but they then arc back toward the center.

Many models and themes ran through my head, including rafts tied together while floating down rapids, mountain climbers tethered together, and people navigating in social circles.

Ultimately, I was inspired by an episode of Star Trek:The Next Generation, in which Captain Picard helps free the Enterprise from a trap using the gravity of a large asteroid to propel them to safety.

How long were you working on the game prior to presenting it to a publisher?

Once I fell upon the matching theme, Gravwell came together rather quickly. It took about four months to devise.

To be clear, I'd been failing at game design for 6 years prior to those 4 months. While Gravwell is my first published game, it was certainly not my first design.

Now that your game has been out for a year and a half, what has been your favorite part of the process?

That's easy – the gamers. I love engaging with people at conventions, on Twitter, in board game cafes, at the FLGSs and at designer events. It's so rewarding seeing the posted pictures of that psychedelic spiral in the middle of a bunch of smiling (and mock-scowling) faces.

I get a special thrill seeing the creative ways in which people mod their games, making custom boards, travel versions, airbrushed ships and even Dalek replacement ships. One gifted Minecraft designer built an incredibly complex, self-dealing virtual version of the game. I also love reading house rules and variants. I’m delighted that I'm not the only person who refers to the derelict ships as “Reavers.” Most recently, I saw someone propose a movie script based on the Gravwell scenario.

What accomplishment are you most proud of with regard to how the game has done?

That's a tough one. I can say that several of the early favorable podcast reviews choked me up. Hearing people get excited about the “aha!” and “oh no!” moments was so fulfilling.

I'm sure I visibly blushed when Scott Gaeta, while accepting the Origins Award with me, said that what he liked most about Gravwell is that it's so hard to compare to any other game. That's my personal design goal – to give you something you haven't seen.

During Origins, you released details about the expansion for Gravwell.  Can you give us some of those details here and what you are most excited about in the expansion?

Since its release, the one request I've heard most often is to allow more players. Due to the high level of ship interaction, I was very concerned about adding more variables. At first, I said that there would never be such an expansion.

Then I stumbled upon the solution. Starting 5 or 6 players at the singularity would be a mess. But what if 3 of the players started at the singularity, trying to get out, while another 2 or 3 start at the warp gate, trying to get in? At first the game would play like 2 simultaneous 3-player games, then it would explode into mayhem as the ships blow past each other, then settle back down into the smaller, simpler games.

We had to add 10 new fuel cards. The science purists out there will be pleased that we only added genuine elements.

We streamlined the draft, making piles of 3 (2 up, 1 down) so each player only drafts twice. The draft order is also simplified.

We have a few optional cards and variants too. Fun twists, but I'm very careful not to mess with the core experience.

After going through the game design process, what advice would you give to other designers attempting to get their games produced?

Gravwell is my first, and so far, only published game, so I can’t speak with any authority on that. I can describe how that came about, but I’m sure it’s not the proper route for every game.

I tried contacting publishers by conventional mail and email. That didn’t work. Then I started attending conventions. I started talking to the publishers whose games I liked, without ever directly pitching to them. I did that for about 2 years, until I thought I had a game worth showing. The first game wasn’t picked up, but I got good feedback and encouragement. That seems universal in this community. It took several more years, and 5 more designs.

So, advice? Keep at it. Try more than one design. Put in the hours. Get your game in front of as many players as you can. Oh, and take part in UnPub and Protospiel events whenever you’re able.

Do you have anything else coming around the bend that you are excited about?

I have another design being considered by a publisher at the moment. It’s called Santorini, and it’s based on the Greek island region by the same name. It has very little in common with Gravwell, other than its weight (in terms of game play) and play length. It features a few new mechanisms, most notably the inclined playing surface. 

Thank you Corey for taking the time to speak with us!  And look for our next interview, coming soon!