Only a few more weeks to one of my favorite conventions, Congress of Gamers (http://www.congressofgamers.org/) in Bethesda, Maryland on September 28th & 29th. In preparation for the event I am checking in on a few folks we have meet on the UNPUB circuit that we know are also attending Congress of Gamers. Today I talk to Charlie Hoopes of HoopCAT Games.
I first met Charlie at South Jersey UNPUB last April. He was there showing off his new game prototype FireBreak.
Charlie Hoopes: It was the first event where I showed FireBreak publically. I was nervous on the drive to New Jersey that morning. Firebreak was in a less-finished state than when we first exposed At-tat to UNPUB. And just because you and your own family like playing your new game there is no guarantee that anybody else will.
Dr. Wictz: I think I was only a few tables away from you at South Jersey UNPUB.
Charlie Hoopes: You were 2 or 3 tables away from me and wandered over to play while taking a break from Post Position. If I remember right, you suggested some changes and then immediately played a second game of FireBreak to test them out. Your response as well as others to Firebreak’s debut that day erased any doubts I had over whether Firebreak was wroth further development.
Dr. Wictz: Can you give us a quick overview of the games you will be playtesting at Congress of Gamers?
Charlie Hoopes: Firebreak is a cooperative game where players must work together to extinguish and/or contain a series of forest fires. As the fire spreads, the players lose points, with extra penalties if buildings or wildlife areas are lost to the flames. To win the game players must bring the blazes completely under control before they run out of points.
If anyone is interested, I will also have a copy of At-tat/Planx with me. We have not taken this out since UNPUB3. We are putting a theme on top of this path-making, board-vanishing abstract game prior to publication. So if I can get the rough themed prototype ready in the next few weeks, I’ll be bringing that too. Even if for no other reasons than to get feedback on the theme ideas from designers who already played the earlier un-themed version.
Dr. Wictz: How has Firebreak changed since you started presenting it at UNPUB events?
Charlie Hoopes: Has it ever. I would say that the advice from Dr. Wictz and other designers at UNPUB events has greatly accelerated the development of Firebreak. At Congress of Gamers I will feature two major changes to Firebreak.
First, I have replaced the 37 individual tiles with 7 mega tiles. The mega tiles are 7 spaces each, now giving a 49 space playing area. Not only do the 7 mega tiles make for a very quick setup time, they also give me a way to guarantee that key areas (wildlife preserves, lakes, etc) can never be placed adjacent to each other.
The second changes is that instead of tallying points at the end, now you start with the maximum points and lose points as the fire spread. If you run out of points, you lose the game. Watching your points dwindle creates a sense of urgency that earlier versions of the game were lacking.
Dr. Wictz: What inspired the theme in Firebreak?
Charlie Hoopes: My younger son (now 12) loves Forbidden Island and now Pandemic too, so for months he suggested HoopCat should make a cooperative game. Yeah, right, game ideas don’t grow on trees, easier said than done. With competitive games the tension and challenge come from the other players. With a cooperative game, the tension has to come from the game itself, yet also be balanced just right so that the game never becomes either too easy or too impossible. But then one day I had the idea that a fire driven by unpredictable-changing wind could provide that tension to a cooperative game.
Dr. Wictz: How did you get into designing board games?
Charlie Hoopes: That story goes back to my younger son. The full story was the subject of my very first blog. Here’s the short version. A few summers ago my younger son was excited to get a new game with a gift card he received for his birthday. He bought a nicely-packaged game (that I will never name) from a big-name toy company. it was the lamest game I have ever played in my life. (Maybe they should have dropped by UNPUB for some playtesting before release?) there were no meaningful choices to make, no way to affect the outcome and worst of all it seemed to drag on and never end. We only played it once. A month later, my son was ready to put it on the Goodwill pile. I thought to myself, “Even I could make a game better than that.”
Dr. Wictz: What games have you published?
Charlie Hoopes: We formed the company HoopCAT Games to self-publish our first game Fill The Barn. Our game game was a hit with the Junior’s tournament at the World Boardgame Championship this summer. Yet despite numerous positive reviews from Father Geek, Casual Game Insider Magazine, ISlayTheDragon, John Moller, and others, I am fairly confident we have not yet surpassed the sales figures of the wasted gift card game that pushed me into game making. Although I think I made the better game, I just can’t match their marketing budget.
Dr. Wictz: Why do you love making board games?
Charlie Hoopes: You have to love it - there is too little returns for too much effort to continue otherwise. The first rule of being a game maker is don’t quit your day job. When somebody plays your game and tells you they enjoyed it, that’s a reward that money cannot buy.
Dr. Wictz: What draws you to Congress of Gamers?
Charlie Hoopes: I am drawn to any event that has an UNPUB affiliation. UNPUB is wonderful because instead of you having to hunt down playtesters, the playtesters come to you. And, how could I say no when I learned that Congress of Gamers was the birthplace of UNPUB?
Dr. Wictz: Any shout outs to your most dedicated game testers (cough cough, wife, gf, etc.)?
Charlie Hoopes: Did you say cough, cough? Yes, I will shout out for Aaron & Austin (aka Dr. Wictz), you two have been Firebreak fans from the very first time you played, and I have appreciated your advice and encouragement. And I will give a shout out to every designer who is part of the UNPUB community - if I started listing names, I’m afraid I’ll miss somebody.
Dr. Wictz: Thank you so much Charlie for joining us today. If you want to learn more about HoopCAT games you can follow them on twitter @hoopcatgames, join their facebook group HoopCAT games, browse their website www.hoopcatgames.com, or read Charlie’s blog http://hoopcatgames.blogspot.com