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Q&A with Twisty Little Passages creator Mike Rimer

Twisty Little Passages - Mike Rimer Interview

I had the amazing opportunity to speak to Mike Rimer about his new board game, Twisty Little Passages, a dungeon crawl adventure that utilises a book format! Find out more about the game and how he came across the idea for Twisty Little Passages below.

Hi Mike, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to me about your new board game, Twisty Little Passages. It looks like a really interesting and unique game. What can you tell us about the game and what can we expect to find?

Twisty Little Passages is a unique book of dungeon crawl adventure puzzles in a classic fantasy setting. You play as Ren, a warrior spy, on a mission to defeat the menacing Demon King. Throughout the book, you play through a series of maze-like dungeon and area maps, combined into story chapters. Each area is a standalone puzzle with a map, where you start at one point in the must navigate through the area to reach the goal. There is a puzzle in figuring out exactly how to do that.

Along the way, you find treasure, locate keys to open locked doors, battle enemies that stand in your way, and collect magic elixirs to boost your life. You will gather equipment to raise offensive and defensive stats, and must prepare to defeat the level boss. Each puzzle has one way to survive the area and defeat the boss, and your mission is to discover the right solution.

The book has glossy laminated pages, and you play by using a fine-tipped dry-erase pen to draw right on the page to show your progress through the area, mark off treasures you’ve collected and enemies you’ve defeated, and to track life points, keys and other player stats and equipment.

It sounds like an intriguing board game! What inspired you to create such a unique project?

There is a lot of background to how I arrived at this project. I run an indie game studio, Caravel Games. We’ve been making puzzle dungeon crawl games on PC and Mac for 15+ years. Our main franchise is called Deadly Rooms of Death (DROD). It’s a turn-based puzzler played on a grid that involves navigating a series of tricky rooms full of monsters that generally follow simple movement rules.

A spark of inspiration came for me when my oldest son shared a dream he had one night about playing through an RPG, as dungeon maps drawn in a book, where he actually played through the maps by drawing in the book itself, fighting monsters and avoiding traps. It sounded like a really fun idea for me, and I scoured the internet looking for a gaming project or adventure book that played like that. I couldn’t find anything like what I was looking for, and I decided to make one myself.

As I shared the budding idea with fellow gamers, I received a lot of interest and positive feedback, which encouraged me to move forward with the project.

Twisty Little Passages - Puzzle Example (Credit: Caravel Games)
Ah, OK, so I guess the theme is something you were familiar with but the format was the key here! I love that the idea came from a dream you son had and I bet he’s chuffed that it has become a reality. Since this format is new to you, I feel I have to ask, how did you get into board game design?

I’m a lifelong fan of board games of all kinds. I love playing with family and friends, exploring engaging theme and fun mechanics. I’ve been inventing my own, personal board game systems since I was little. The computer games I develop are, in many ways, like board games that play to the strengths of the medium.

One thing that good board games do really well is distill an experience into a core set of rules and mechanics. In some ways, this turns a game into a puzzle. When we speak of “multiple paths to victory”, I believe we’re engaging with a game in a puzzley sort of way. A riddle to solve, as it were.

A source of both challenge and inspiration for Twisty Little Passages was in designing a system and puzzles that play to the strengths of both a book and tabletop gaming medium.

I can see how your previous experience in the video game environment has helped you along this journey to developing this board game. You mention that many puzzles are included within the game and are used as a way of progression as well. How did you come up with the puzzles included within the game book?

For me, the first step was having courage and confidence that puzzles of this nature are possible to design and fun to play. There is a certain mindset required to develop an enjoyable -- not simply mechanical -- puzzle solving experience. That comes with experience and from playing a lot of games where puzzle and level design is done well. To me, good design means a game helps you grow and expand as you play, rather than simply throwing a lot of content together that you need to move through to win.

I wanted to provide straightforward rules and mechanics that are easy to reason about and execute, but that can be combined together to build a broad set of emergent possibilities in play. Also, I wanted to leverage the strong points of the medium, so I went with a rich narrative setting and thematic aspects to each puzzle.

Each puzzle in displayed on two pages, where you can see the entire map area at once. You don’t need to be flipping back and forth to play through an area. I wanted this to be an experience that you can get lost in, immersed in exploring dark tunnels, gathering loot and battling monsters, without getting distracted by cumbersome play mechanics.

That all sounds awesome and incredibly unique and I am excited to see how it plays! The theme is one of fantasy so did any games influence the creation of Twisty Little Passages?

Twisty Little Passages features rules and mechanics similar to one of our computer games called “DROD RPG”, which in turn was inspired by a classic PC puzzle game called Tower of the Sorcerer.  I’ve been fascinated for years by how that game was able to take a dungeon crawl and turn it into a puzzle that was fun to explore every step of the way.

So, this has been a type of play that caught my attention and I’ve been thinking about for around 20 years now. I’ve learned that the primary thing to get right is the puzzles, but it’s also critical that they be blended with an engaging setting. These two aspects go hand-in-hand. With well-designed puzzles, and a setting to back up the experience, it will be something that’s fun, appropriately challenging and delightful to explore.

You have definitely put in a lot of work to ensure that the game can be the best it can be! It all looks great and I think your hard work has produced a really unique, immersive board game. For those looking at the project who haven’t backed it yet, what would you say to them and why should people consider backing this project on Kickstarter?

This is a courageous labor-of-love project, seeking to provide something uniquely creative back to the gaming community that I’ve drawn so much joy from over the years.

There is an excitement in the exploration of mysterious and thematic hand-crafted labyrinths, enjoying a fun adventure story, finding special gear and unique power-ups, solving mind-bending puzzles and battling challenging enemies and bosses.

If you enjoy mazes, puzzles and dungeon crawls, Twisty Little Passages may be just the thing you’re looking for. Also, there are some great stretch goals to hit, which will help make the end result even grander.

Fantastic! Obviously, this game is on Kickstarter now and is doing incredibly well. Once this has been funded and completed, have you got any plans for future games like this?

I’d love to create more games like Twisty Little Passages. I’ve been especially grateful for the level of interest and support coming from the gaming community for our project, and it’s rewarding to partner with fans to develop a great product. Based on the overall level of interest, we could do this.

There has been a lot of interest from both solo players and from families, where parents enjoy playing through puzzles together with their kids. We have many ideas for future games involving distinctive puzzle mechanics, alternative settings like outer space, sci-fi, modern spy thrillers, and so forth. We also have budding ideas for additional ways to play, such as co-operative and kid-friendly modes.

I look forward to seeing what you have in the pipeline! Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me and good luck with your Kickstarter!

For those of you interested in Twisty Little Passages, the Kickstarter is live now and you have a week left to back this great project!