Q & A – Ted Alspach

Ted Alspach is one of my favourite game designers out there. His first design that I fell in love with was Suburbia, with it’s interesting tile-laying mechanic where you have to attention to what others are building in their suburb as well.

Little did I know at the time that Ted has an extensive game design history that dates back to 2005. Ted has designed a large number of Age of Steam expansions plus many original games such as Ultimate Werewolf, Start Player, Colony and too many others to list.

With yesterday’s announcement of Werewords Deluxe coming to Kickstarter in March, I thought it would be nice to hear Ted talk about the campaign as well as some of his older games as well.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

 

The new Deluxe Edition of Werewords sounds really exciting. One of the items in the announcement mentions the fact that the Deluxe Edition “addresses issues gamers had with the original production.” What were some of these issues and how does the Deluxe Edition address them?

The one thing we heard consistently from players was that they didn’t like the artwork. We had gone with a more casual, freeform cartoon drawing style, and while artwork is always subjective, more people didn’t like it than did. So that was one of the first things we worked on; finding an art style that was more appealing, yet still stayed true to the more whimsical, light feel that represents the gameplay in Werewords. The resulting artwork from up-and-coming artist Roland MacDonald (Stop Thief!, Kaiju Crush, Escape Room: The Game) really hits the mark there:

Werewords Deluxe artwork

Of course, it includes the new “disco wolf” which really is a werewolf raising his paw with an extended finger to ask a question of the Mayor, but still…he does look like he has some great moves, too!

What triggered the idea of combining your famous Werewolf games with a basic word game?

I’ve always liked word games that require someone (or a team) to guess a word, and the original idea of Werewords was pretty simple: what if you had a word game where sometimes the player giving the clue *didn’t* want you to guess the word, but you didn’t know it? There are these great checks and balances in Werewords that allow the werewolf players to do this sort of thing to some extent, but they can’t be too blatant about it or they’ll get caught.

With Werewords using the hidden role system that you’ve used previously, and then the success of the various “One Night” editions, can we expect more of these types of games from you? Are we done with “One Night” games, or are you thinking of other possibilities?

I believe there is a ton of space still for new and interesting social deduction games. Ours have been in the werewolf universe and mythology, and even within there there are a ton of different variations that ca be done. I have several different social deduction games under development, and in March we’ll be releasing Werebeasts, which is a different kind of Social Deduction game, a little closer to Coup in gameplay than our One Night/Werewords titles, but still a different spin on both the Genre and the theme.

WereEverything

As far as One Night goes, we have something lined up for this year that’s going to make people who are fans of the series very very excited. An announcement for that should be coming in March as well.

Werewords Deluxe is going to be on Kickstarter, but the goal is to be fulfilled by Gen Con, which is in August. With that short of a turnaround time, it seems to me that production would already be started if that’s the case. Is that true? If so, does this mean that the game will be published regardless of the success of the Kickstarter (which I’m predicting will be a massive success anyway)?

Yes, we are definitely starting production now, and Werewords Deluxe Edition will be published at Gen Con. For us, we use Kickstarter as a way to provide things to our fans that we might not be able to produce otherwise, like extras or special stretch goals. For instance, not only are there physical in-box stretch goals, but there’s a reward level for existing owners of Werewords to simply upgrade to the new cards (with new art and roles), another level that includes a plush “Lyin’ Werewolf”, and a higher tier where backers can create custom commentary that’s going to be said in the app by our new narrator.

Werewolf plushie

Following along with that subject, what are your views on the heavy use of Kickstarter in the boardgame industry? You’re using it for games like Werewords, so you obviously at least somewhat approve of it. But what effect do you think it’s had?

I think we’re now in the phase of Kickstarter that is far beyond its original purpose; instead of simply providing a way for new and smaller publishers to find out ahead of time if a game appeals to players, Kickstarter is a marketing tool and a way for publishers to connect more directly with fans. We certainly find it useful for the latter!

Going back to some of your earlier games now, how did the idea for Palace of Mad King Ludwig come about? You already had Castles of Mad King Ludwig, so the topic would have seemed to be covered already. So what made you decide to revisit it with a different game?

The Palace of Mad King Ludwig exists because I was working on a card game version of Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Not long into development, though, it was pretty clear that the game wanted to be a tile laying game, and it started to deviate from castles a bit, though there’s still a lot of DNA there from Castles (and a bit from Suburbia as well).

Suburbia is one of my favourite games of all time. Suburbia Inc is a must-have expansion in my consideration. But I’m not a big fan of Suburbia 5 Star, and it seems that’s a common opinion among Suburbia fans. What’s your opinion of that expansion? Did it do everything you wanted it to do? What do you think of the reaction?

As a designer and publisher, you always hope everyone will love everything you publish, and that doesn’t always happen. With 5 Star, I was addressing the issue of how to make Suburbia work well for 5 players. We had scrapped the 5th player early in the process of developing the original game, and to make it work required more than just adding some more components. I really enjoy the star “tourist” system of the game, as it adds yet another vector for players to think about while creating their city.

Suburbia and Castles of Mad King Ludwig have come out as mobile apps. Are you considering any of your other games for mobile? Or maybe any other Bezier-published games?

It’s always something to consider, especially when a game does really well. Last year we had three brand new (not in an existing line) games that did really well for us: New York Slice, Whistle Stop, and Werewords, and while the last one already has an app, the first two are definitely under consideration to make into an app in the near future, as is Palace.

Final question. Your list of game designs is quite extensive, going back to the Age of Steam expansions in 2005. What made you want to get into board game design? And what made you switch from such a concentration on train games to broader fare?

I absolutely love playing boardgames, and I love the process of designing and tweaking and developing those designs. I’ve always dabbled in game design since I was a kid, but didn’t really focus on it until the last fifteen years or so. The Age of Steam/Steam expansions just so happened to be fairly successful for me, but during that time I was designing a whole bunch of other games as well, most of which never were published. I stopped doing AoS expansions primarily because the market was getting smaller, and at a certain point I knew that those expansions were being collected more than being played, and I’d rather be publishing games that people are playing.
I’ve been very fortunate to have success with a variety of other games, both as a designer and publisher, and it has been great fun to develop and publish Whistle Stop from Scott Caputo last year, which is a train game that has pushed the boundaries of what a train game is.
Thank you very much, Ted, for taking the time to answer my questions.
Keep an eye out for the Kickstarter launch of Werewords Deluxe when it opens on March 5.

9 Comments on “Q & A – Ted Alspach

  1. Good interview. Asking the tough question about Five Stars. Haha. Reminded me of werebeasts. Looking forward to that game, but kickstarter shipping was too expensive at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

        • If I ever do a full interview, I will do that. But when I’m just sending the questions to them, I don’t like it to get too annoying. This one was part of the Werewords campaign, so didn’t want to stray too far. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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