Emerson Matsuuchi – Century: Spice Road Q&A

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This week I spoke with Emerson Matsuuchi from Nazca Games about Century: Spice Road, the game where you take on the role of a spice trader!

Can you tell my readers a bit about yourself and how you got into making games?

I run Nazca Games, a game development and design studio. We primarily focus on game design for tabletop games and apps, but we have also done 3D modelling work for other companies and have consulted on projects with other publishers.

My history, I’m a software developer and started developing software professionally in 1998 (almost 20 years). I have always had a love of games of all types. I started playing board games and RPGs at a young age. I first started making my own games at the age of about eight or nine, when I created a giant mecha-robot RPG game.

I don’t recall any of the details, but I just remember thinking how cool it was and how fun it was to create it. I had attempted making other games at various points in my life. I made a roll and move game for a school project in elementary school. Then I created a very, very rudimentary text-based computer game in middle school for another school assignment. Through high school, I had dabbled in trying to make abstract games on the computer.

It was only recently, well relatively recently, that I pursued creating games in a more serious capacity. In 2012, I self-published my first game. It was a very small Halloween-themed (the holiday, not the horror movie) game that consisted of a deck of cards. I wanted to start small and build from there. I have continued to pursue the craft since.

Before the UK Games Expo, I never even heard of the game how did it come about?

Century: Spice Road has had an interesting history. It was originally called Spice Road and was planned to be released under Nazca Games. I had shown the finished prototype to Colby Dauch, head of Plaid Hat games in 2014, where we agreed to partner together again to bring it to market as Caravan - with both the Plaid Hat and Nazca Games logos.

Colby had a very bold idea of presenting the game with two ‘skins’ as he called it. There would be two different aesthetics on the same game with identical gameplay. For the first time, the players got to choose a theme for their game. I thought it was rather innovative and bold. Not long after engaging in an agreement, Plaid Hat was acquired by Z-man (F2Z entertainment). Caravan was re-branded to fall under the Z-man brand, but still retained the duel aesthetics.

The plan was to release Caravan in 2016 in Essen. The following year, F2Z Entertainment was acquired by Asmodee.

The president of F2Z, Sophie Gravel, had negotiated certain terms in the transaction with Asmodee which would allow her to start a new company, retain Pretzel games, and keep Caravan. That new company is Plan B and although it’s a new company, the staff are industry veterans. Caravan was changed from being one game with two aesthetics, into the Century series with three different games in the series. With Century: Spice Road, the first in the series, releasing this past June.

Colby had a very bold idea of presenting the game with two ‘skins’ as he called it. There would be two different aesthetics on the same game with identical gameplay. For the first time, the players got to choose a theme for their game. I thought it was rather innovative and bold. Not long after engaging in an agreement, Plaid Hat was acquired by Z-man (F2Z entertainment). Caravan was re-branded to fall under the Z-man brand, but still retained the duel aesthetics.

The plan was to release Caravan in 2016 in Essen. The following year, F2Z Entertainment was acquired by Asmodee. The president of F2Z, Sophie Gravel, had negotiated certain terms in the transaction with Asmodee which would allow her to start a new company, retain Pretzel games, and keep Caravan. That new company is Plan B and although it’s a new company, the staff are industry veterans.

Caravan was changed from being one game with two aesthetics, into the Century series with three different games in the series. With Century: Spice Road, the first in the series, releasing this past June.

Did you always plan to go straight to retail or was Kickstarter ever considered and why/why not?

For Century: Spice Road, I don’t make any calls on marketing and distribution, that would be a question for Plan B. As for Kickstarter, I believe it was never considered. Even when I was publishing my own games under Nazca Games, I had only briefly considered Kickstarter and decided against using crowdfunding to subsidize the production of the game.  It wasn’t a good fit for Nazca Games’ business philosophy.

There are also several companies that I try to model our company after, and none of them use Kickstarter. Now that’s not to say that using Kickstarter is bad or that I have something against Kickstarter. Quite the contrary. I think it’s a wonderful platform for the indie creatives out there. I’ve backed almost 50 projects myself. But using Kickstarter doesn’t fit every business model.

How do you feel when you see people comparing Century: Spice Road with Splendor?

I do like Splendor quite a bit and it has sold very well from what I have been told. So comparing it from a sales standpoint is quite exciting! From another angle, they are mechanically different games at their core, but have several similarities.

Both games have very small rules footprint. They both have depth-of-play despite the few rules. They both have component appeal. Both have thinly connected themes. And they both come in roughly the same size box. And most notably, they both have a forward-only player progression that many casual gamers find appealing.

Now that description could apply to many other games… So it must be the box size. All kidding aside, I find the comparison to Splendor a very fair one. That said, someone posted a comment that they felt Spice Road felt like Sid Sackson’s Bazaar with Mac Gerdts’ Concordia. Now that is a very accurate comparison!

Both games have very small rules footprint. They both have depth-of-play despite the few rules. They both have component appeal. Both have thinly connected themes. And they both come in roughly the same size box. And most notably, they both have a forward-only player progression that many casual gamers find appealing.

Now that description could apply to many other games… So it must be the box size. All kidding aside, I find the comparison to Splendor a very fair one. That said, someone posted a comment that they felt Spice Road felt like Sid Sackson’s Bazaar with Mac Gerdts’ Concordia. Now that is a very accurate comparison!

The quality of the components really surprised me for a game in its price range, what was the idea behind this?

The bowls and the coins are a wonderful touch. That was Plan B’s decision to make all copies of the game feel like a ‘deluxe’ edition. I can’t take credit for that.

The game is said to be compatible with the two other Century games to be released, what is the idea behind this and how will it work?

Each game will feature unique mechanics, with each game having elements that can be ‘mixed’ with the other games in the series.  The vision was to do more than just create three stand-alone games or a base game with two standalone expansions. We wanted each game in the series to add value to the other games in the series.

I carried on asking questions here but as you can appreciate some things Emerson could simply not tell us. I do know that each game will be standalone with the second game featuring boats and the third Indians. I would like to thank Emerson Matsuuchi for taking the time to speak with me about Century: Spice Road. 

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