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Trekking The World Interview


I’ve had the opportunity to interview Nick Bentley from Underdog Games about Trekking the World 2nd Edition, a revision that’s a significant step up from the original and is a direct result of analysis of thousands of customer reviews and a change in their own design principles. With the new edition live on Kickstarter right now, let’s dig in a bit further on the changes and why this is the essential version of the game.


Let’s get the important stuff out of the way: what five essential items would you pack for a trek around the world?

Underwear, phone, books, books, books

What's the first board game you remember playing? And what's the first one you fell in love with, and why?

Checkers, I think? I was very young. Like 4. First one that I really fell in love with was Chess, in college. The first modern-ish game I fell in love with was Acquire, a couple of years later.

Underdog Games have been a busy team. Give us a little background on how Underdog Games came together.

Underdog was founded by two people: Hasan Hasmani, a businessman and ecommerce expert, and Charlie Bink, a game designer and graphic designer. Charlie had designed the first edition of Trekking the National Parks. Hasan loves the National Parks, and when he played it, he realized he could reach a big audience for the game with his ecommerce skills. That was 2017. The company has been cooking ever since.

Who’s on the team? How well does the team interweave together?

Right now:

Hasan Hasmani: Founder and CEO

Dave Cisek: Marketing Manager

Nadine Soriano: Operations Manager

Fredo Rodriguez: Graphic Designer

Nayeli Acuña: Graphic Designer

Jim Lawrence Ng: Customer Service and Retail Manager

Charlie Bink: Game Designer and Art Director

Nick Bentley (me): Game Designer and Studio Manager

Marceline Leiman: Game Designer and Developer

I think we’re ok organizationally. We’re more organized than most other game publishers I’ve seen the inside of. But board game companies don’t have a high bar on average. Compared to the best-run companies in the larger world, I think we still have work to do.

What spurred on the development of a 2nd edition of Trekking The World?

Culmination of two things:

We are a values driven company and our #1 value is constant improvement. We take that really seriously, and we don’t underestimate how hard it is. Humans are universally tempted to tell ourselves stories about our own improvement, but many such stories are false. Trying to figure out how to actually improve, and not fall prey to convenient stories, is a tough business.

The gameplay of the last Trekking game we made, Trekking through History, has been received by most people as being significantly better than our previous Trekking games. It’s now by far our most-acclaimed game and just got a Spiel Des Jahres recommendation.

So we asked ourselves the question: if Trekking through History is our new bar for quality, how to ensure our next game is at least that good? It’s a hard question, because the better a game is, the more likely the next game will regress.

So we studied Trekking through History, and also a few select highly-praised recent games from other companies in our category (gateway strategy games), came up with new design hypotheses, and decided to redesign Trekking the World around them.

Now we get to find out if we were right, or if it’s back to the drawing board. The early feedback from the first reviewers so far suggests we may be right, but we need more data.


What was the original inspiration behind Trekking The World? Would you recommend the refreshed edition to owners of the original?

The original motivation: our company specifically makes games about the real world, focusing on subjects that inspire curiosity. We figured a game about the most fascinating places on Earth fit that bill. It also seemed to be conducive to a great interface, and great art, both of which are important to us.

I’d recommend 2nd Edition to most owners of 1st Edition. It’s a very different game and even the core mechanic is different, so your mileage may vary, but so far it seems like we’ve succeeded in our quest to improve it. I think there are three categories of people who should be careful about getting 2nd Edition:

Those who play 1st Edition with very young kids who can’t read (the game is for ages 10 and up so there won’t be many of those, but I’ve met a few). Reason: there are more text-based card powers in 2nd Edition than 1st Edition.

Those whose favorite part of 1st Edition was the blocking. There’s no blocking in 2nd Edition.

Anyone who gives 1st Edition a 10 out of 10 rating. If 1st Edition is among your favorite games ever, the best 2nd Edition can do is match it.

What were the main challenges during development, and how were they overcome? How has playtesting helped?

For me, playtesting is at least 80% of game design, so there would be no game at all without playtesting.

The main challenge: we believe creating a great game is a highly multidimensional challenge. You have to get dozens of things just right to even have a chance. Finding mechanics that felt like they achieved that was just agonizingly difficult. I suspect one reason there aren’t more great games in the world is the amount of discomfort, pain, and frustration you have to go through to hold out for the right mechanics. Even after going through all that, it’s still possible to be wrong.

Which is your favourite new mechanic within the game?

The drafting mechanism. Built into that mechanism is probably our biggest new design insight. I say probably because we won’t know if it’s right until we see how the customers respond. We try never to underestimate how easy it is to be wrong.

It’s a hard insight to explain and I haven’t been able to put it into words that people outside our company are able to understand, because it’s built on a bunch of contextual knowledge that exists only inside our company. If our customers respond well to it, I’ll take the time to write an essay explaining it.

Something that struck me about your Kickstarter campaign - you’ve kept the rewards to two simple tiers, the base game or the base game with a mini expansion. At a time when many Kickstarters have many reward tiers, what led to this decision?

One thing that distinguishes us from other companies: we believe in simplicity in the service of quality. A lot of campaigns offer a ton of things, but many of those things are of low quality, the logistics gets tangled and the companies deliver late or with problems, and then all the extra stuff isn’t even used much by the customers because the experience design wasn’t thought through.

Publishers load their campaigns with stuff not because it creates the best experience for customers, but because that stuff acts as a marketing tool, and also raises average order value. That in turn allows creators to spend more on advertising to acquire each customer. It’s a dynamic that, imo, incentivizes bad products and bad service.

We’d rather have a small, quality- and customer-focused campaign than a big one full of stuff no one will end up caring about. Especially now, when I think we all should be doing everything we can to reduce the greenhouse gasses our activities generate.

Trekking The World is a competitive game. Was this borne out of the theme, or was it always your intention to go competitive over cooperative?

This is a legacy of Trekking the National Parks, which is by far our best-selling game, and which is competitive. Also, we have a lot of temperamentally competitive people at our company and that probably influences our decisions. That said, we’re actively looking for opportunities to make cooperative games. We have a couple of half-baked ones, but nothing that’s crossed over to “we have to publish that” yet.

What do you play in your spare time between sessions?

I used to play a ton of abstract strategy games, which were my first love in game design. Now it’s almost all gateway strategy games. Two reasons:

1) For me, the best gateway strategy games are fine art. The economy with which they create great experiences is breathtaking to me.

2) I have a 5 year old who, because he lives with a dad who designs games from home all day, plays games at the level of a 10-12 year old. By playing gateway strategy games, I can have a somewhat “adult” game experience with my son. So we play a TON. Current favorite is Mind Bug, which I highly recommend (though I think the 1st play can be a little unintuitive for non-gamers, so maybe it’s not totally gateway).

Other games I’ve played a lot lately: Sky Team, Cascadia

Which one game do you wish you'd designed yourself?

King of Tokyo

What advice would you give to other prospective designers? What advice would you give to yourself after a spot of time traveling?

Create a design principles document and iterate on it regularly. Here’s ours.

Don’t focus just on game design. Also experiment with the processes by which you design

Blind playtest: have players learn from the rulebook without any help from you and record how they struggle

Split test: have players play two games back to back and have them tell you which they preferred and why

Know the needs you’re designing for. Games serve many different needs. If you don’t know which needs your game is supposed to satisfy, chances are it will satisfy none.

How has the support been from the board gaming community?

Surprisingly great! Wasn’t necessarily expecting it because we make gateway strategy games and that’s not the core interest of the hobbyist community. My best guess as to why hobbyists have given us some support is they see how serious we are.

How does it feel to finally launch the new edition?

Incredible and nerve-wracking. This project hasn’t left my thoughts for a minute of my waking life for more than a year. So you can imagine how invested I feel. If it’s received well, I’ll feel intense joy. If poorly, intense pain.

We'll finish on another vital question. Out of the world’s entire population, which five people - famous, infamous or neither - would you take on a round-the-world trip and why? (You’re allowed to choose less if you’re anti-social like me.)

Ray Dalio - my favorite systems thinker and decision making expert

David Goggins - a person who has taught me powerful ways of dealing with hardship

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana - a buddhist monk who changed my life

My Wife - I was put on earth to love her

My Son - I was put on earth to love him

Head straight over to their Kickstarter page now to check out Underdog Games’ clear and concise pledge levels. They’ve been fantastically successful so far, no doubt because it’s clear how much work has gone into this redesign, and I think it’s definitely worth your time.