Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Interview about Cunning Folk with Jay Treat (designer) & Jason Tagmire (publisher)

Jay Treat, Designer
Jason Tagmire, Publisher

Howdy, Internet! Doug Levandowski sitting down today with Jay Treat and Jason Tagmire. Jay is the designer of Cunning Folk, a game being released by Jason’s Button Shy Games on Kickstarter until May 29th. Previously, Jay has published Possibilities (also with Button Shy Games), Legacy of the Slayer, and Intrigue (on iOS). Jason Tagmire is a publisher and designer. As a designer, he created Pixel Lincoln, Pretense, Wild Cats (with Marty Cobb), Maximum Throwdown, and Storyteller Cards - just to name a few. Guys, thanks for sitting down to talk with me today!

Jay: Thanks for having us, Doug!

Absolutely! So, to get this started, tell us a little bit about Cunning Folk, Jay.

Jay: Cunning Folk is a micro-game of bluffing and deduction. Players are investigating the small town of Ipswich for witches, trying to throw each other off the scent, so they can be first to expose an entire coven.

Jay: The secret that makes a 13-card game work is positioning the players to play mind games with each other, and then just getting out of the way.

I had a chance to play at Maelstrom this year and just loved it. I thought the design was simple, elegant, easy-to-teach, and fun. How’d you come up with the idea for the game, Jay?

Jay: Jason asked me one day if I had any ideas for a small game that would fit his wallet line. I explained that I’ve never had any interest in designing micro-games, but I’d let him know if I thought of anything. The next morning I woke with an image lingering from my last dream and wondered what kind of small game I could craft from that inspiration. By lunch I had mocked up the game and it was an instant hit. I tried again with my game group that night and I was sure it was good.

What was the image from the dream? Or would that be getting into too much armchair psychoanalysis?

Jay: I saw an old village permeated by a thick foot of roiling fog. I’m sure it had been part of a larger dream, but I have no idea what else I dreamt.
Three cards from Cunning Folk
The fog is a great lead in for the gradually revealing cards aspect of the game, which is so wonderful. So, Jason, as soon as you saw it, were you immediately sold? I know you kind of sought out a design from him, but was it love at first sight with this game?

Jason: I was in the early stages of expanding the wallet line and really wanted to work with Jay again. I love his designs, his work ethic, and thought he would be great for the wallet line. He shot me down and thought it wasn’t up his alley, then a day later came back with a game that was super solid. I played it first at Unpub and knew pretty early on that it was going to work out.

Not only did we get to work together again, but I was also able to challenge and inspire Jay, and now I’m releasing the game. A pretty awesome turn of events.

Yeah, that’s pretty phenomenal! And having worked with Jay on a game using Matthew O’Malley’s Knot Dice, I can vouch for how great working with him is. Jason, were there any tweaks that you made to the design of the game after Jay brought it to you?

Jason: We chatted a few ideas very early on (like giving the Villager an ability, changing the numbers of Witches), but it bounced back to the original design in most cases. There wasn’t much needed as it was already very tight. My biggest contribution was trying to keep things grounded to the point where someone with a bad memory and bad bluffing skills could survive in the game. I also fought hard for the title Cunning Folk.

What other names were on the table?

Jason: As you can imagine every name is already taken. If not by an existing board game, they are taken by some major corporation. I wanted something unique. Something that described a key aspect of the gameplay. Something that fit into the Button Shy brand. And something that just felt right. We had ideas like Switchcraft, Switchery, Ipswich, Witches of Ipswich, etc... Each of these leaned a little bit on something that’s already out there. When Cunning Folk came into play, it hit all of the right marks for me.

I like Ipswich, too - since some of the cards allow you to swap cards - but I agree: Cunning Folk is the best of the bunch! And for those of you who don’t know about Button Shy’s “wallet” line (thus far, Movie Plotz, Pretense, Wild Cats, and now Cunning Folk), they’re games that can be played with 18 or fewer cards, and they’re packaged in a small, vinyl wallet. Jason, what was your inspiration for that style of packaging?

Jason: It was an answer to the common problem of “how to package a microgame” mixed with my DIY indie roots. When it comes to small games, packaging is pretty tough. You can either put it in a box that’s too big (almost every game ever), bag it up (Love Letter), put it in an envelope (Coin Age) or what else? So I started looking at options. The two most important things were durability and portability. I found these business card wallets, ordered samples and hoped for the best that cards could fit inside of them. Luckily they did and now it’s a challenge to get the most out of the <18 card format.

Two wrong guesses and you're Ostracized...and out for the rest of the game!

It’s a nifty way to package things for sure. Also, the turnaround time on these games is CRAZY short. Even with custom “meowples”, you’ll be delivering Wild Cats, which ended on April 24th, in May. How do you do it?

Jason: I’m not even sure how. It’s very much because my wife Carolyn is super supportive and has been paving the way for me to do this. Lots of long nights and 18 hours straight on Sundays. I’m making lots of personal sacrifice to both my wallet and my sanity to break even making these wallet games. It’s obviously super fulfilling though because we pretty much have the next 10 lined up.

The next 10? Tagmire, you’re a beast. Any that you’d like to tell us a little bit about? Any teasers? (And I hear you on the supportive spouse front!)

Jason: The best I can tease right now is that there’s a variety of game styles in there. The biggest goal going forward is to see what else can be done in the wallet format that isn’t limited to deduction and storytelling. And with that said, I can tell you there’s also deduction and storytelling coming down the line.

And Jay, anything else that you’re working on right now that you want to tell us a bit about?

Jay: I’m developing Merchants of Araby for Game Designers Clubhouse. It’s a card game of engine-building and negotiation. I’m definitely excited to show this off when it launches late this year or early next year.

Awesome! Can't wait to play it. Internet, if you're reading this, go check out Cunning Folk on Kickstarter! There's a link at the bottom of the page. Jay, Jason, thanks so much for sitting down to talk with me about all of this. As always, great to talk to you both.

Jay: Thanks, Doug! Great chatting with you, as always.

Doug Levandowski is a game designer who co-created Gothic Doctor and UnPub: The UnPublished Card Game. He has other designs in the works, too - because that's what designers do. When Doug's not designing, interviewing, writing articles, or sleeping, he's teaching English to a bunch of amazing high schoolers. They're working on Jane Eyre and Death of a Salesman right now, his favorite novel and modern play, respectively. You can find him on Twitter at @levzilla. 

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