Hi Thibaut and thank you for agreeing to chatting with us here at Zatu.
How are things with you at the minute considering you have a kickstarter live whilst all in the UK are on lockdown?
It’s a little bit crazy. We had to have the kickstarter running from the beginning of April if we did not want to push it to very much later. When the lockdown was announced, we considered the possibility of starting the campaign later. But this is our first kickstarter, and we thought in any case it would be better to try to run it anyways. We will still be able to relaunch if necessary, and in the meantime we are learning a great deal. It also looks like the community migrated a lot to electronic means of checking games, with TableTop Simulator going very strong, so we keep an eye on all that.
I understand you have been involved in a playtesting group. How did this help in the development of your game?
The main playtesting groups I have been involved with were PlaytestUK in Sheffield and in Leeds. I also had the opportunity to demo at the Birmingham Board Game Bash, twice. Those are public meetups where you can present an in-development game to players and designers alike and see how they react and ask questions about what could be improved. I also had some other playtests with my regular groups. Any designer will tell you that these are invaluable. Your friends and family will always be nice and support you, other designers, especially if you show them you are a bit serious about the craft, will not hesitate to point very clearly everything that is wrong with your game. It is invaluable feedback, and acting on it will definitely make your game much better. If you have the same players playing different versions of your prototype, several times, they will also be able to let you know if you go in the right direction or not.
Regular players tend to be nicer, but just observing them you should be able to tell if they are just being polite or if they do enjoy the game.
And all this feedback is super important. Players will do things that you did not expect, will have questions about things you thought were crystal clear, will go for weird strategies just because they can, etc. It is then the role of the designer to decide what the game should support or not, and how to handle all that elegantly.
Houses of Knowledge went through this process for about a year and changed tremendously from the first version (allegedly horrible) to the game it is now.
Tell us a little about Houses of Knowledge, what is the premise of the game, and how does it play?
Houses of Knowledge is a competitive set collection game with a bit of trick taking and card combo mechanics in which players take on the roles of museum curators trying to build the most varied museum possible, and of course preventing other players from doing the same.
The game revolves around two main actions: placing thematic rooms in your museum and items in those rooms to generate money every turn, and buying action cards to slow down other player’s progress or get a boost.
There is a strong element of combos that appears quickly, in which players will try to determine the best order in which to perform their actions to maximise their results.
Finally the mood of the game can change rather quickly depending on players: if they are more aggressive or more defensive will result in different games. For example, I am rather aggressive in it, but when I was playing with defensive players, they were all ok to get guards rather early in the game. Since I was not getting them, I quickly became a target and had to adapt.
There is this strong player interaction component at the heart of the design. You can’t just focus on building your museum, you will have to deal with other players, and that can be done in several ways: steal items from their museum, deny them cards that they might want to use, try to prepare a massive action in a future turn. There are cards to interact with nearly everything in the game, so it is really a matter of adapting to the situation you are in.
I really enjoyed playing houses of Knowledge and particularly liked the use of humour and stylised artwork. What are your favourite element of Houses of Knowledge?
I am glad the humour went through, it was a quite tough part of the development. My favourite element is the player interactions and the stories they can generate. I’ve seen players do incredible comebacks during playtests by using very clever combinations of cards. I also really like the way scoring is designed. I obfuscated the information purposefully to keep everyone playing to the end. And if the players at the table have similar skills at playing the game, the end score can end up being pretty tight, with just a few points difference. Sometimes people win by just one point, which is what I like the most. It’s never a surefire victory.
Finally, I really enjoy the art also. Zoromeya is extremely talented and I could not have been more happy with the results!
With a game based on building a museum with different rooms. If you were building a museum for your favourite games what rooms would you have and which games would you be exhibiting?
Gosh I would have so many; I would need an aisle for video games and another one for analog games. Then we could separate classic games from modern one, have a special exhibition for traditional folksy games, maybe have different rooms for the party games and euro games, wargames would need a section… It could go on forever!
Have you got any other games in development that you would like to tell us about?
I am currently working on two other concepts that still need a bit of refinement before I try them, and I started work on something completely different which is codenamed “Memorace”. It is basically a small abstract racing game mixed with a memory mechanic. I am still exploring that space and toying with the prototype, there is absolutely no certainty that it will ever see the light of day. If I manage to get a well working prototype of it, I will probably try to contact publishers though. If you want to know more about it, you can follow TwoRedSquares on twitter, I usually post pictures of prototype and progress on there.
Thank you again for sharing your time and thoughts with us and all the best with your current Kickstarter.