Interview with Carey Grayson

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« Carey Grayson »

How did you come up with the idea to create "Birds on a Wire"?
I am always looking for new inspiration for games. To that end, I carry around a small notebook wherever I go, so that when inspiration strikes, I can jot it down. In the case for “Birds on a Wire,” my inspiration was the funny Pixar animated short: “For the Birds.” The challenge was to find a way to emulate what was going on in the story in the form of a board game. If you have not seen the short, it is a very funny movie about a big, goony bird with Ausberger Syndrome trying to join the company of some snobbish little birds ending with hilarious results.

How do you define "Birds on a Wire"?
Your readers may not know, but “Birds on a Wire” comes with two sets of rules: Family Rules and Advance Rules. I designed the game around the advance rules first and in that regard, it is very much like the Pixar short I just mentioned. The family rules are similar in theme, but it is a simpler game with different scoring mechanism to appeal to a wider audience.

What are the strongest arguments of "Birds on a Wire"?
Despite its cute exterior, “Birds on a Wire” is not as easy or as nice as it looks. It is an abstract game at its core with mechanics that are well married to its theme. There is a lot of screwage in the advance rules and you have to be on the alert what other players are doing or they will fly past you scoring-wise (a little bird humor there).

It was difficult to find an editor to "Birds on a Wire"?
As in editor, do you mean publisher? The answer is no, it wasn’t. Thematically, the art was so cute, the first publisher I showed it to liked it right away. However, it did need some further development (family rules), which is what you see today.

Where do you get the ideas for your games? Do they start with the mechanics, or the themes?
The theme usually comes first (like for “Birds on a Wire”), but as I develop a game and try many different mechanics, I like to go back to those mechanics and see if they will inspire something new.

What kind of mechanics do you prefer to focus on the development process of your games?
I try to find mechanics that fit within the theme of the game and focus on those. If it doesn’t fit and feels out of place then I drop it. For “Birds on a Wire” the Sky was inspired by Zooloretto and thought it would fit what I was trying to do. I didn’t want to copy Michael Schacht’s fantastic game mechanic, so I redesigned it to fit within the context of my bird theme.

Which level of luck is acceptable for you in a game?
I like to say, you can’t beat luck. Especially to my wife who is very lucky. She always seems to draw the perfect tile in “24/7 the Game” or cuts the perfect card in “Cribbage” or rolls doubles in “Backgammon.” But I do like a little luck in a game. That way I can blame my poor playing on my bad luck. :)

The creation of a game, have several moments? Creation, editing, testing and publishing? Which is the most pleasant for you? Why?
Definitely creation. The initial idea is always wonderful and exciting! But I have learned, it is never half as good on the table as it is in my mind. But that is okay -it is part of the process and one must be willing to accept they are not Wolfgang Kramer. I also like the publishing part. It just feels good to peel off the shrink wrap for the very fist time.

How often do you play test a board game before publication?
Up until the very last moment before it goes to press. I spend a great deal of time play testing my games and when I think it is ready, I present it to the publisher. Usually they have some ideas that they would like to incorporate and usually it is for the better, but you must play test those changes just to be sure.

Once you give a game to a publisher do they ever develop the game past your original design? Are you always happy with such development?
I think I just answered this. I’m happy so far, but it’s not like I have a lot of published games at this point.

Can you tell me anything about the project you are currently working on? Can you tell me any details about the game itself?
My next game is about racing over bridges using different forms of transportation. So not surprisingly, the name of the game is “Bridgetown Races.” It is due to be published next year as part of their Gryphon Games.

How often do you play your own games after they've been published? Do you prefer playing your own games or the games of others?
I don’t mind showing people how to play my own games, like “Birds on a Wire” or my first game, “24/7 the Game” even though I have played both a million times. But my games are pretty light and so it is not quite a chore to play. That said, I enjoy playing other games by certain designers over my own.

Do you prefer play the games or create them?
I generally like to do both. I couldn’t just always do one or the other, but if I had to choose, I suppose create them. I enjoy being creative and working an idea into something tangible.

Can you tell me the game you enjoy playing the most? Why?
I can’t say unequivocally, but I really enjoy “El Grande” a lot. I love the way Kramer melds several mechanics seamlessly together. I enjoy the varied strategies, the minimal down time between turns and it has the right amount of luck that appeals to me. I also really like "Empire of the Ages III" which is another game that is blended perfectly.

Can you tell me your favorite game? And your favorite type of game?
I guess “Ticket to Ride,” but only because I can play it with just about anyone. I enjoy playing games that a have strong crossover appeal. That way I can show my family and friends that board gaming is really a lot more fun than they think it is.

You play games time to time, or the games are part of your daily life?
As much as I wish it were, playing is not part of my daily life. I only get to play a couple of times or so a week, but only because my wife and I work long hours and getting the time is not always so easy. I also live in a small town and there just aren’t a lot of gamers here.

How does the internet affect your designs? Do you read the feedback about your games online?
I use BGG (Board Game Geek - an excellent gaming web site) to explore what others are playing and saying about the games they like. Of course I like to read reviews about my own games, good ones especially. I don’t like to read reviews that are unnecessarily harsh about anyone’s game. I know how the designer must feel and I wish people didn’t get such a kick of reading those. I try to keep up with the questions and respond as quickly as I can, so I do try to follow the threads on BGG.

When did you realize that creating games was your dream?
When I was 10 years old. It was raining and we couldn’t play outside, so I designed an indoor version of “Kick the Can” with little paper cutouts taped to the back of a gameboard and plastic pieces. The person who was "it" closed their eyes while the other players hid their playing pieces behind the paper cutouts. As I recall, it actually played okay, but we destroyed it as a matter of course as boys that age will do. I guess that is how I got the game design bug into me. I’ve been designing off and on ever since. It has only been in the last few years that I thought I could actually get a game published.

How do you define yourself as a game designer?
“Game Design by 10,000 Monkeys” is how I describe my method for designing games. The story goes, if you lock 10,000 monkeys in a room, all hitting keys at random on their own typewriter for an infinite amount of time, they will eventually type the complete works of William Shakespeare. So following that theory, if you lock me in a room with the right materials, given enough time, I will eventually turn out a good game. It is a matter of designing, playing, analyzing, redesigning over and over until you get it right.

Do you have another job, or you are a full time game designer?
I recently left my day job (at Intel Corp) to work for a fairly young, but semi-successful game publishing company, Fred Distribution. It is in a sense, a dream come true for me since I now get to help develop new games, mine or someone else’s, into what you eventually see in the market. I actually work longer hours now, but I am enjoying every minute of it.

Who is Carey Grayson? What can you tell us about you?
I’m 53 years old, married to the same wonderful woman for 31 years and I have 3 kids and a grandson. The rest is icing on the cake.

Do you normally follow any particular game designer with special attention?
I look forward to new games by Wolfgang Kramer who I think generally does excellent work. I also like Richard Borg and Alan Moon who I think are excellent designers.

Do you think that board games can be used for educational purposes?
Absolutely! In fact, I think games should be a part of school curriculum. Studies show that children, who are introduced to gaming at a young age, generally do better in school, in social situations and later in business. It is such a great tool for teaching concepts and principles in a fun and interactive way, which kids love.

The "Age of Empires III" and "Goa" board games retract the glorious days of Portugal history. Do you think that Portugal history can be a theme for a game made by you?
If I had the right materials and a room with 10,000 monkeys…

What you know about Portugal? Have you ever visited Portugal?
I know Brazilians speak Portuguese, because of their discoveries and expansions into the Americas. And that Portugal is on the western edge of Europe. I am sorry to say that I know little else, except that someday I may get a chance to visit there.

Thank you very much for your interview.
Thank you. It has been my pleasure.

Fred DistributionBirds on a Wire BGG
Carey Grayson BGG
Série de jogos Gryphon Games

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