Interview with Kris Gould

em português

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« Kris Gould »

How did you come up with the idea to create “Set Jet”?
I was playing Railroad Tycoon with friends, and one of my friends built a very expensive track across the mountains at the same time I did. He ended up using his track six or seven times, while I was only able to use mine once. I thought this was horribly unfair, and the track should wear down a little each time you use it, so he would have had to spend money on upkeep to use the track again.

This led to my trying to design a train game where there were "steel" markers on each track. Each time you used it you had to remove a "steel" marker, and when there were no markers left, you would have to spend time and money repairing the track before you could use it again.

This was a pretty good system, but it wasn't very realistic. Train tracks don't wear down that quickly. Once I switched to airplanes, the game made more sense. Airplanes were removed from the board because they were being assigned to flights that are permanently added to your airline's schedule. You couldn't use the same plane for two flights at the same time, so you had to spend money to buy another plane.
Airplanes also made it easy to set the game in Europe, instead of the United States. Now I could ignore terrain problems, such as the Alps and the English Channel. The rest of the game grew up from there.

How do you define yourself as a game designer?
I tend to prefer (designing AND playing) games that have a reasonable level of strategy, where there are decisions to be made every turn that have an effect on your progress.

But the strategy can't be too heavy. I don't like the kind of games where afficionados play it every day for six months and then know exactly what to do in order to win every time. That takes the surprise and discovery out of it. A beginner should be able to beat an expert at the game occasionally.
Family games that can engage the kids, while at the same time giving the adults plenty to think about. That's the kind of games I aim at designing.
You play games time to time, or the games are part of your daily life?
I play games a lot. I have regular game nights every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. I was a collector long before I was a designer. There are several thousand games in my game storage room. It was my admiration and enthusiasm for playing games that led me to become a game designer.
Can you tell me the game you enjoy playing the most? Why?
I like games where there are options to choose from every turn, and where you can make progress every turn (improving your position or your score), even if you aren't winning. They have to be fun to play, not just fun to win.

Puerto Rico has a nice feel of progressing. Every turn you are building up your holdings and improving your position, even if others are doing it better or faster than you. I still feel like every turn I am making progress, even if I am not winning.

The Catan games also have this feeling of making progress, and so do most train games. Goa, Kingsburg, Industrial Waste, and Hamburgum also have a good feel of making progress every turn, improving your position and abilities.

I also like games that provide you with unexpected surprises and challenges. I like figuring out ways to use special abilities and game mechanics to solve a problem. Cosmic Encounter is still one of the best games for this type of thinking. And Robo Rally always throws some surprises at you, no matter how well you plan things out.
When did you realize that design games were your dream?
I always liked playing games, and did it regularly with a group of friends. We came up with house rules to some games to make them more interesting, and sat around thinking up new Cosmic Encounter powers all the time.

Sometimes I would read about a game and think it would be cool to play, but then the game didn't play the way I thought it was going to. So I would work out a way that a game could play the way I thought it should. In this way I designed a game called "Bumpers" - a two-player abstract strategy game that was pretty good. I tried showing it to various game companies, but that went nowhere.

Then I designed a fantasy game called "Legend of the Moonsword". I drew the board myself, putting several months into it. I thought it ended up looking great. But if I tried to sell it to a company, they would probably redesign the board and all my time would have been wasted. So I got together with some of my gaming friends, and created a company to produce "Moonsword".

I wanted to call the company "With All This Talent Sitting Around, Let's Put Out A Game". (Sort of a reference to the old Mickey Rooney - Judy Garland movies where someone would say, "Gosh, kids, with all this talent sitting around, let's put on our own play in the barn!") But that was too long for a company name, so we abbreviated it to W.A.T.T.S.A.L.P.O.A.G.

"Moonsword" didn't sell too well. Looking back on it, I see that the game was too simplistic and random for an adult game, and way too long for a kids game. In my spare time I started developing and playtesting other games ("Fruit Fight" - now called "Fruit Fair" - was the first), and eventually revived Wattsalpoag to put out my new games.
Do you have another job, or you are a full time game designer?
While designing and developing games, I have been a Structural Engineer, a Software Developer, and a School Teacher in both Elementary and Junior High schools. Once I started my company, I became a full-time game designer. Although the demands of sales, bookkeeping, communication, promotion, conventions, marketing, and all the other details of managing my own company are taking up way too much of my time.

Fortunately, I have a supplementary source of income, which not only allows me to live on it while my company takes all my time, but also provides a large amount of funding to keep Wattsalpoag Games running.
Do you normally follow any particular game designer with especial attention?
If I find a name that I recognize on a game box, that can be one factor in deciding whether to buy it. But I can usually decide whether or not to buy the game based on its description, regardless of whose name is on the box.

Even my favorite game designers have come out with some games that I don't like. I love Medici, but strongly dislike Taj Mahal. Dirk Henn has some great games, and a few that leave me cold. I guess a favorite would have to be Wolfgang Kramer. I still love Wildlife Adventure, and I always end up buying his games. But even he has some that I find less interesting.
What you think about the economic crisis? It will affect the games sales?
I'm not sure. Perhaps many people will try to find less expensive ways to entertain themselves, and will turn to board games. On the other hand, in the cases where people have a choice whether to buy a game for themselves, or to play a friend's copy, the economic crisis will probably mean that they will play their friend's copy.

What will affect (and is already affecting) the sales of any individual game, is the enormous number of new games, game designers, and game companies out there. There is a lot more competition now, compared to when I first came out with "Legend of the Moonsword". So even if the overall sales of games stays about the same, the sales of each individual game will still be dropping.
Do you prefer play the games or create them?
I still love playing games. And my preference is for playing new games, or at least games that I haven't played in a long while. I love the thinking that goes into figuring out how to use the game mechanics to get to the goal.

But there are times when I want to play a game that doesn't exist yet, or a game with a mechanic that no game has. Then I have to work out all the details and create a prototype that I can play.
Can you tell me your favorite game? And your favorite type of game?
I have already mentioned Cosmic Encounter and Wildlife Adventure. For strategic war games, I like History of the World, Fortress America, Star Wars - The Queen's Gambit, and Vinci. For lighter games: Coloretto, Can't Stop / Claim It!, Trans America, No Thanks, Scan, and Express. I also frequently play Freight Train, Pandemic, Eurorails, Ra, Outpost, and Hols der Geier.

I've mentioned my favorite type of game - the kind where you can make progress on your turn, even if you aren't winning. The opposite type (where you can lose ground every turn) would be my least favorite. An example would be Moskito's Kunst Stucke, where I once spent all my action chips and my entire turn setting myself up for lots of points, only to have the next player spend his turn undoing everything I had done. It was then impossible for me to win. I wasn't just behind, it was actually logically impossible for me to get any points. I spent the rest of the game trying to mess other people up. No fun.

By contrast, I can come in last in a game of Outpost and still have fun, because I have made progress. I have built myself up from two ore factories and one water factory, to two Outposts, several water and ore factories, a plethora of Titanium and New Chemicals factories, and many other holdings. I can feel good about what I achieved, even if I didn't win.
Can you tell me the name of your next project? Will be a game like “Jet Set”? What can you tell me about the game?
I am working on many things, but so far nothing stands out. I am going through cycles of changing and playtesting on "Antique Dealers From Neptune" and "Switchin' Tracks". The first of these is about collecting and improving antiques to sell to Neptunians, and the second is about routing trains to go through the cities that will get you points.

Also there are prototypes of "Craftsmen to the King", "Divided States", "Islands of the Mad Scientists", "Nordland", Barbarian Tribes", "Thunder on the High Seas", "Children of the Gods", "The Seige of Troy", "Shoes and Socks", "Squirrel Bonk", and many more. These may never go anywhere, or they may suddenly take off if I get an idea or an inspiration for them.

In general, 2009 will be about promotion and advertising, since my games are still pretty obscure. There may be no 2009 release. However, I do have a card game, "Jewel Thief", and a party game, "Tastes Like..." that may be released this year. Also I am working on a light filler game called "Hey Bartender" that doesn't seem to need too much more development. So who knows what will happen?
What you know about Portugal?
I have seen photographs and tv documentaries about Portugal. It looks like a beautiful country. Is it more mountainous than Spain? I have tried Portuguese food in a local restaurant, and it was very good. I love sseafood!
Have you ever visited Portugal?
Unfortunately, I have not. I flew through Lisbon once on my way to Madrid, but we didn't stop for long. I want to visit sometime, perhaps on a cruise. Do cruise ships come to Lisbon? What about other cities in Portugal?

I know that the Portuguese language sounds a lot like Spanish to me. I know some Spanish from when I was young. (I spent two years in Puerto Rico.) Perhaps it wouldn't be too hard for me to learn some words in Portuguese.
Thank you very much for your interview.
You're welcome! Sorry I went on so long in some places.

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