Darren Terpstra

#75 – Darren Terpstra

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking with Darren Terpstra, who designed Ignite, which recently funded on Kickstarter. Darren, welcome to the show.

Darren Terpstra: Thanks so much for having me.

Patrick: Yay. I like to start my show off with a little game, and it's basically a lightning round so that the listeners can know a little bit about you before we get going. Sound good?

Darren: Sounds great.

Patrick: All right. So, what is a game you play with someone every single time at a game convention?

Darren: I almost never get to play anything other than my own game, but I would play Scythe or Battlestar Galactica with anyone who would ask me.

Patrick: Yes. Now, I'm a huge Battlestar Galactica fan. Do you have any favorite expansions?

Darren: I didn't get in on the expansions before they became mortgage inducing. So, I pretty much play base game.

Patrick: Got it. They added lots of interesting stuff, but they also added to the play time, which was already a long game. So, the base game is great.

Darren: Yeah.

Patrick: Very cool. If you had to exist in a universe of your game, your game has all these cool fantasy races, what non-human race would you want to be?

Darren: For coolness, I would pick the cat folk. For their backstory, I'd probably pick the kitsune.

Patrick: I've been thinking about kitsune for one of my own games. Basically, I know they're Japanese fox spirits. Can you just, like in one or two sentences, what is cool about kitsune in your universe?

Darren: Yes. They're the perfect magic users in my universe. They came to the land of Oshos to try and teach them how to use magic correctly, because magic is what's causing the world to be corrupted. So they have the least tragic backstory, but they also are the ones that put this magic barrier around the land of Oshos to try and control and condense keep inside of it the corruption of the magic. I don't know, and they're just a cool race.

Patrick: That's awesome. Last question, this one is a little bit silly. You live in Colorado Springs, which is about an hour south of me. How do I get you to drive up so I can playtest your game?

Darren: Dude. I would be totally game. I'm super busy right now as we just finished Kickstarter, but once I have a little bit more free time in my belt that would be an absolute pleasure. Believe me.

How Did You Get Into Board Games & Board Game Design?

Patrick: Awesome. Very cool. This way, I like it when friends bring games to my house. That's the best way, and they teach me to play the games. That's the best. So, first real question. How did you two get into board games and board game design?

Darren: Yeah. When I was like 10, I believe, we went over to my grandparent's house, and my cousins always had the cool stuff that we would play on. They had the original Nintendo, like all of this stuff. But they brought this game that was in German, and it was called Settlers of Catan, and we had never heard of it before. No one had ever heard of it before. They only had the German version so we had to look up what the development cards meant because none of us can read German, and we're like “Wow, this is super fun.” Then the next time we came over, they had Carcassonne. We're playing all these games, and I'm like “Oh my gosh, these are really ridiculously fun and way better than Monopoly or Candyland,” or whatever.

Darren: So we played all those, then went through high school and went through college, just fell off the board game scene. Then when I went out to Colorado actually as an intern, I was introduced to Dominion. At first, I hated it. I was so bad at it, and I don't understand how I was so bad at it, because it makes a lot of sense to me now because I've played deck builders. But I look back at the things that I bought, and I'm like, “Of course you lost. That was dumb.” But I gave it another try, and another try, and all of a sudden I just loved it.

Darren: I loved the concept of deck builders. But after you play Dominion 500 times you start understanding, “This is going to do this. This is going to do this. This is how you win,” like optimal path sort of thing. It's just whether someone else gets better car draws than you, or once in a while if they have a better strategy than you. So I wanted something with more player interaction and conflict. I grew up playing Risk and things like that with my youth group, so combining that combat and conflict player interaction into a deck builder was something that I thought would be cool, and I'm one of those people that if I think something's cool, I start tinkering with it. That's how I got into board game design.

Why Start With an Ambitious Project?

Patrick: That's fantastic. I like that you listed off a whole bunch of games, they're the classic games that get you into the board game world. That's pretty cool. OK, so I want to talk about your game Ignite. I saw it on Kickstarter probably over a month ago, and I was like, “Wow, this is cool.” I'm pretty sure, as we talked about on the preshow, I'm pretty sure I saw you at HexaCon, which is here in Colorado. I think I saw your miniatures there and I'm way into miniatures, so it looks cool. But your game is over 1,000 cards, a ton of miniatures, super modular board, and a lot more. This is your first game if BGG is correct. Why start with such an ambitious project?

Darren: There's a couple of different reasons. I could say it's to put us on the map and come out the gate with a bang as opposed to just wading into the pool, as opposed to jumping into the deep end. But it comes down to this is the game that I was most passionate about, and I had people telling me “Release something else first. Release Rocket Cats first.” And I'm like, “I've just put four years into this, I've been going to conventions for almost two years now. All of my followers know Ignite, not everyone knows Rocket Cats. I want this one to hit the market first because I know how awesome of a game it is after working on it for so long.” I don't know. It just kept on growing and expanding because there's so much opportunity for it, and I think the people who backed it understood that this is a very unique game that isn't like anything else out there.

Patrick: It looks really interesting, and I love deck building as a mechanism in a game. I don't think I'm a fan of– I play Dominion, and it's OK, but I want a little bit more. I like when deck building is part of the game. But in your game, it's like you draw every turn a new deck of stuff, but you also move around the map and choose who to attack and all that stuff. So, I love when it's part of something bigger.

Where Did the Miniature Design Ideas Come From?

Patrick: It definitely seems like a unique game that way. I'm totally a bit of a product design nerd, and one of things I love that you did is you put these little holes in the back of the miniatures, and then you can put these little daggers in the back in those little holes which represent wounds. So it seems like every single miniature has three holes, you put three daggers in them, and then they die. Me as that the product designer, like where did that idea come from? Because I love when you– It's super intuitive, there's only three holes, and as soon as all three holes are full, the miniature is dead. Did that come from playtesters? Did that come from your sculptor? Did that come from something you were doing? Where did all this come from?

Miniature from Ignite
A dagger going in the back of a miniature

Darren: In the initial prototype we were moving around wooden cylinders from Puerto Rico, and in Puerto Rico, you have the little colonists or something, and they're little discs, and they are about the same size as the cylinders. So literally, we would stack the cylinders or stack the little discs on top of the cylinders, and move them around that way. We knew we wanted to do miniatures, so we were thinking about it.

Darren: We don't like those games that you get 150 life points, and this attack does 58 damage, but then you have a ninja ability, and you got attacked from behind, so it does times .25% for damage and all of that stuff. It just gets overwhelming to me and reduces the fun of the game, so we knew we wanted very limited health for the people. I think we were thinking about it one day and it just seemed so obvious. “Why not just actually insert something into the back of the miniature?” We looked at different miniatures, and we tried to figure out how big the dagger would have to be, how big the miniature would have to be, and then we just went from there. I'm sure we kicked ourselves for a couple of people because people want 32-millimeter miniatures. But at the same time, you can always use ours as boss figures or something like that if you're a DnD player. The large size of the miniatures does set us apart from the competition in a lot of people's eyes.

At What Phase of a Game's Design Do You Design Miniatures?

Patrick: Yeah. It sounds like you just wanted to have three lives, and it just came to you. That's awesome. I don't talk to other people about this, but where did designing the miniatures go into your process? Was the game already a really good game and then you decided to add miniatures to it? Was it right before the Kickstarter, was it years ago? Where did that come in, and how does– What does that process look like?

Darren: The process– We got very lucky because we found a very reasonably priced and very talented miniature artist. I know we have been creating the miniatures pretty much as long as we've been creating the game because it does take quite a bit of time to produce a miniature model of the detailing quality that we desire. I think we were building them out and even after 3D printing the ones that we did for conventions, the ones that you saw, we– I don't know where I was going with that train of thought. We just completely wanted the miniatures from the beginning and were working on them, but when you're prototyping don't worry about not having the final version of everything that you're going to be using. Work with what you have, which in our case was all of the Puerto Rico stuff.

Why Did You Invest In World Building?

Patrick: Awesome. It looks great. So, I also want to touch on how not a lot of people do world building for their game. I'm going to say maybe 5% of my guests, I don't know what the actual number is, but it seems like very few people build a world that their characters and their races and everything that lives in. It seems like you did a really good job with that, and I love all the backstory. I love that it's not just regular elves, it's special elves, and they have their own history. Why did you decide to build a world for your game? Why did you decide to do that?

Darren: I think theme and world building is under-appreciated by game designers. I have a game upstairs in my room that I was given and it's “Cupcake Boss,” or something like that. I know I'm never going to play it. It's going into a math trade this weekend because I don't care how good the mechanism is, I am not going to get excited, and my play friends here in Colorado Springs aren't going to get excited by a cupcake game. It's just not going to happen.

Darren: The more passion in world building and story and lore, and all of that that you can put into your game, the more excited I think people are to play it. Because all of a sudden it's not just pulling stuff out of a box so that you can move pieces around, there's story. There's almost a book associated with it. That's why I always like games that are based very closely off of something that I know like we were talking about Battlestar Galactica.

Darren: I watched a season of BSG just so I could understand a little bit better the game that I was playing from it. Also, I'm just a storyteller at heart. I wrote a book I think when I was– I started it when I was 16, and it was just a novel, and I just wrote a page every day during the summers. It's just a fun thing to do that doesn't take as much time and effort as you might think it does, but if you do it well it'll have great repercussions later on in the future. We've had plenty of people telling us that they love the world building aspect of what we did.

When Do You Build a World For Your Game?

Patrick: Awesome. So let me ask you this, I'm designing a game, there's a couple of game design contests going on it seems like all the time. I'm working on a game, and there's going to be fantasy races, do I if I'm a game designer, do I want to look into world building at the end? Or do I have to do that towards the beginning? Because the core game is fun, it definitely is a lot of tweaking, but the core game is fun. Is now the right time to start building the world? Or should I wait until the game itself is almost done, and then write some–? I don't even know how to go about doing it. Do I write a little mini-novel every day, or how do you do that? That's not my skill set.

Darren: I think what you want is a backstory of the land, and then a backstory of each of the specific races or characters. I think that's the minimum that you need to put in. I think you're at a great place to do it right now because you might come across ideas through the world building that you hadn't thought of before. Also, when you have, it completed you're able to implement things from gameplay into the actual world building that you built because you know “I can easily connect this and this.”

Darren: As an example for us, we have it that the kitsune put the magical barrier around the land of Oshos because someone in a play session asked “What happens if I ice wall a person off the edge of the board?” We're like, “We hadn't about that.” We think about it for a second, and we're like “They get squished. There's nowhere for them to go, so they have to get squished, which is an insta-kill.” Then we thought about it, and we're like “Wait. We can totally build this into our world building thing.” So, that's where the story of the magical barrier came from. It's from that play session, actual need/desire. If we hadn't been working on the world building up until that point, it would have been easily lost as a detail, and it wouldn't be as rich of a world that we built.

Patrick: That makes a lot of sense. To me, it almost seems like when you're at the stage where the core of the game is done, and you're just still tweaking things, but the core of the game is done. That's probably a good time to start. So for this game design contest, I should get that going. Cool, that's helpful, thank you.

What Types of of Games Do You Like to Design?

Patrick: So, I'd love to know what– It sounds like you've designed at least more than one game, even though only one has come out so far. What type of games do you like to design? What mechanisms or what themes, or what things do you like to work with?

Darren: I'm going to give a two-part answer to this question. The first is I'm a very confrontation sort of guy, which is funny because if you ever met me, you wouldn't think I was confrontational at all. But I enjoy that in games. I think it increases the replay-ability a lot when you have direct interaction with other people, so most of my games will have some battle aspect to them. It might be more party-esque, like Rocket Cats, or it might be super strategic like Ignite.

Darren: But in some way you're going to be interacting and probably attacking or defending with the characters that you're in control of. That being said, I don't like niching myself into a specific type of mechanism or type of game. Eric Lang is one of my favorite designers, but you can tell when it's an Eric Lang game. Usually there's some action point allowance system, usually, there's a couple of different ways to either win or get points.

Darren: We played Chaos in the Old World the other day, which is very much along those lines, and it was interesting to see the differences between that and Blood Rage, and then between that and Rising Sun. Because in a lot of ways they're similar games, and then they take it in a different direction with each of them.

Darren: My philosophy for games is that until you've created a game in a lot of different genres, I try not to stay in the same genre for too long. That's not to say that I'm not going to be supporting Ignite and we're not working on multiple expansions for it, but I'm not going to be building an exact– Another tactical miniatures deck building game as my second game.

Darren: I'm working on one that's a card drafting thing with up to 12 players, and then I've got one that's like a bag builder. Then I have one that– I don't even know what to describe that one. Just all sorts of things, and so I try to take disparate things and figure out a good way of incorporating them into a game that I have a  vision for. If that makes sense.

Are You Trying to Find a Niche?

Patrick: It totally makes sense. Let me take off my game designer– Because as a game designer I want to design whatever is fun for me. There's miniature games, and there's card games, there's dice games, there's betting games. There's a million things that I want to design, but as someone– Do you want to keep self-publishing? Do you want to keep self-publishing? The reason I'm asking is because then it's really helpful to have a niche,  people know “He had this great game. This will probably be similar to it.” Do you want to do this–? I'm having a really hard time getting this question out. Do you want to do this as a game designer, or do you want to design lots of games as a publisher? That's my question.

Darren: Yeah. I can understand what you're saying there like it's very much like the guy who made– What are all those games? The little box games that look like books.

Patrick: Oh yeah. I will look it up. I cannot remember–

Darren: You know who I'm talking about. You know the type of game that you're getting with them, and you know the type of game that you're getting with a tiny epic series because they've built their brand around that. I can completely understand that, and I think if I had a specific niche that was so specific to those types of games and yet could give me the flexibility of creating others, I would go with it.

Darren: But at this point I want– I think there's also value in pulling in people from different genres into your audience because I don't necessarily think people will always be like “This came from Darren Terpstra which means it's going to be this type of game.” I think it's more, “This came from Darren Terpstra, and he has a track record of putting out innovative games of different types. I want to have his next one in my collection as well.”

Darren: So I'm not going to be like a Steven Feld, where everything is the same with just a little bit of differences here and there, and they all look the same. You can put them all nice and organized next to each other on your shelf. I want people to be like, “This guy produces creative, innovative games that I haven't seen before, and there hasn't been one that I haven't liked yet.”

Patrick: Love it. By the way, I looked it up. It is Facade Games. They make a ton of really cool book-like– All their games look like they come in a book. My favorite is Tortuga 1667.

Darren: Yeah.

What Resource Would You Recommend to a New Game Designer?

Patrick: I'll link to that in the show notes, and it's a really good game. OK, so I love to ask people what is a– There's a ton of information out there, what is a resource that you would recommend to another indie game designer?

Darren: I would recommend Jamey Stegmaier's book if you're going to go the Kickstarter route, for sure. I think that is super good for them. The other resource that I would recommend is The Game Crafter and other just crafting websites that allow you to put a game into your hands faster with maybe just slightly more cost if that makes sense.

Darren: Ignite, for example, I went through the process of taking blank business cards and writing on every single one of them the name of the card, the cost of the card, and then the honor that the card gave you. Then literally you had to look it up on an 11×17 sheet, front and back, printed from Excel to look up what the actual ability of the card that you bought was. If I was to do it again now, it would be so much easier and just– It would be more expensive, but not breaking the bank expensive to print out the stuff through Game Crafter and go from there.

Darren: So, to go back on what I just said, I guess the resource that I would say is get good with Photoshop or some image manipulation software so that you don't necessarily have to go through the cramp-inducing hours of writing on blank business cards like I did.

Patrick: Yeah, I hear you. So, let me ask you different question. I've recently run into the problem where as soon as I get something on The Game Crafter, I want– I love, by the way, the quality is insane. The game I launched on Kickstarter a couple of months ago, that was all done through The Game Crafter. Really good quality. Amazing. My problem is then someone says, “Let's try this new card.” I always struggle, like do I print out a whole new set of cards and wait two weeks for The Game Crafter to send it to me? Or do I throw in one bad-looking card and all the rest look amazing? Which I know is a silly problem, but it's totally a mental thing for me to get over. I love The Game Crafter, but I think for me I have to do it late in the process, otherwise, I get too attached to what everything looks like.

Darren: I think you can also do it in waves, and also I wouldn't be hesitant on just marking up cards with a Sharpie. That's what I did with a lot of the cards on a game I've been working on, and it would just be like “Too powerful. Dropped from three to two.” Just different things like that.

Patrick: Cool. Love it. Yeah, that's probably a good idea. I think this past summer if I was a little bit more diligent I think I probably could have gotten an update to my game almost every month. You're right, you cross stuff off manually and then maybe once a month you go in, and you order yourself a new prototype. If you're ordering cards, it's not that expensive, so I love that suggestion. Speaking of this, what is the best money you've ever spent as a game designer?

Darren: I have a little game with myself. People are going to absolutely hate me for this probably, but I try not to break the bank on buying board games for myself. I'm a very frugal person, just who I am. I'm very passionate about like anti-human trafficking and poverty alleviation and stuff like that. So, it's hard for me to justify certain things, for buying for myself, for example. I have a little thing to myself where I try and get as much of a variety of good games in my personal collection as possible through Craigslist and just cycling through games that I don't like, but making sure to play them if I have the opportunity, because playing a wide plethora of games is going to increase your ability to solve problems in your own game. For example, I was thinking about this game that I have hard time putting into a box that I'm working on, it has to do with time travel, and there's just all sorts of stuff with it. But I was trying to figure out how is the best way to get player's cards back into their hands? A couple of days ago I had played Concordia with some friends, and I'm like, “A Concordia system where you have a card that pulls all of your cards back and has some variable power for how many you pull back, would be a super great solution to this problem.” If I hadn't played Concordia that wouldn't have come to me, and I would have probably gone with a less elegant solution. So getting games from inexpensive places, finding sales at your friendly local game store or finding a couple of bundles off Craigslist and just going through and playing some of those games– Playing a lot of games, I think, is the best money that you can spend.

Patrick: I like that. A friend of mine has a board game night on Fridays, and what's great is he and I have very different game tastes, but I love going there for just that reason. Because I always get to play basically something new that I haven't tried before, so I love the idea of just basically playing as many games as you can. So, what are some fun mechanisms or ideas that you're looking into for either a future game or an expansion, or something like that?

Darren: Yeah, OK. I'll just run through a couple of these. Rocket Cats is the one that will be coming out on Kickstarter, hopefully, late 2019. It's a 2D side-scroller game. I like to describe it as Robo Rally meets Worms: Armageddon. Literally, you're like a cat [meeple], and you're on a team of cats, and you're trying to take out the other team's leader sort of thing. It's a card drafting thing, so you might draft a jetpack up three spaces, shoot a rocket launcher, throw a gladiator net or throw a net on someone so they can't move. All of these sort of things, and it just becomes a chaotic party game of cat madness, which is just really fun. But we're looking into, for that one, static cling arrows because everything in the game follows some trajectory. Like a grenade will follow a certain arc before it starts falling, and just different things like that. Gravity affects cats, and different projectiles will fall each turn, and stuff like that. So that's a really fun one that we're looking into. For the journey through time game that I'm talking about, we're looking into something similar. Translucent cards, like Mystic Veil. Just because that doesn't seem like it's been done super– It hasn't been implemented into a lot of games yet, I think just because from a price point they're more expensive. But I think there's some really fun things that have yet to be done with them, so I'm working on a game that implements that into the entire system. Then I'm excited about another one, and we pitched something to Jamey Stegmaier for his red rising challenge, which has to do with bag building. We're excited about that. We haven't heard back from him yet, but if he doesn't end up taking it, we'll re-skin it into something else because it's a really fun game. I even had one of my close friends tell me, and he's like “Don't take this as anything against Ignite, but I think I like your red rising game more than Ignite.” I was like, “Wow. I appreciate that.”

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick: That's cool to hear. So, you have a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign, which by the way did very well. I think $200,000, which is fantastic. What does success look like? What are you looking forward to in the future?

Darren: It's great to be on the board, finally. There's a lot of animosity– Or, not animosity. There's a lot of hesitation when there's a first-time creator. I think that combined with the fact of how busy the Kickstarter marketplace was when we Kickstarted kicked us in the teeth. I think we could have done a lot better if we had done it at another time, and if I had published a game prior to this. But I'm very happy with where things ended up, don't hear me being ungrateful at all. But we're very much looking forward to doing another round with Ignite, and with an additional expansion just after people have been able to sink their teeth into it, because everyone that's been playing it has loved it. There's a growing fan base on Tabletop Simulator. There's a guy, I think he's on version 5 of modifying our built– Our original Tabletop Simulator game, and he's just made like mod after mod after mod to it. He's talking about all the sorts of different people that are coming along and playing a game, really enjoying it, and then getting their friends to jump into it as well. So we're excited to see the Ignite hype train continue, especially as people get to see the amazing miniatures in person as opposed to 3D renderings and stuff like that. Just getting out there with more games that we have in the pipeline is going to be awesome.

Patrick: Fantastic. All steam ahead, all engines. It just seems like you're moving along.

Darren: Yeah, 100%.

Patrick: Very cool. Awesome. Thank you for being on the show. I like to end with a silly game called Overrated/Underrated. Have you heard about it?

Darren: I haven't, no. You'll have to run me through this.

Patrick: Excellent. Basically, I am going to give you a word or phrase, and you need to say if it is overrated or underrated. So if I said “Colorado,” you'd obviously be like “Underrated, it's the best state in the United States.” Something like that.

Darren: OK. Good to know.

Patrick: Cool. All right, so I'm a big fan of minis games. Either Warhammer: Age of Sigmar or Warhammer 40K. Just choose which one, choose one of those. Are they overrated or underrated?

Darren: I have not played either of those. I love the– What was it? It's sort of like Starcraft in the Warcraft 40K universe.

Patrick: Starcraft?

Darren: Shoot.

Patrick: Forbidden, like the [inaudible]?

Darren: That's what it's called. That's a good game.

Patrick: OK.

Darren: But I haven't ever played anything from the base set of Warhammer 40K, or anything like that. I'm going to say neutral because I have no discerning to go from.

Patrick: Fair. So, all right. I'm going to switch to computer games here. Have you played any of the Elder Scrolls games? Like Morrowind or Oblivion? If so, are they overrated or underrated?

Darren: I'm going to say underrated for the originals, and overrated for the most recent one.

Patrick: OK, I haven't played in a long time, but I loved some of the older ones. Awesome. How about games with campaign systems? Are those overrated or underrated?

Darren: I think those are doing well right now. I don't think they're going to continue on with as much gusto later on, I think people are going to start understanding the cost to benefit ratio of those is low, especially if you only get like five or eight games into Gloomhaven and then end up putting it on the shelf for the rest of your life. So, I'm going to say overrated for that. Don't kill me.

Patrick: Last one. Garden of the Gods, overrated or underrated?

Darren: I'm going to say overrated, but this is because I am totally a beach bum at heart. I go to California each summer to go on my surfing trip where I bum on a friend's couch and surf at Obi out in San Diego. If anyone listening is out there, I'll be coming out in August. But I love the waves, I love surfing, and as much as I love mountains I'm going to put overrated for Garden of the Gods. Again, Colorado people, don't kill me.

Patrick: Oh, man. For people who are not familiar with Colorado, that is like the– Sorry, from the hoity-toity person's perspective in Denver, that is like the coolest thing in Colorado Springs. Just these super cool rock formations that are jutting out of the ground, and they're all red, and–

Darren: If I had more rock climbing friends still, all of my rock climbing friends have gotten married and like moved off, I would love Garden of the Gods a ton more because I would be able to climb it. But I've had to do the like touristy person in the neighborhood walking around Garden of the Gods trip way too many times. Also, the parking lot has literally like 20 spots, so it's a bit rough.

Patrick: Awesome. Love that answer. Darren, thank you for being on the show.

Darren: Thank you so much for having me, I had a great time and appreciate you.

Patrick: Good. Where can people find you online?

Darren: GingerSnapGaming.com is the best way to stay in touch with us. We'll have a signup thing from there, and you can also link over to our late pledge from that. You can also find us at Ginger Snap Gaming on Facebook as well.

Patrick: Awesome. Listeners, if you liked this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. If you leave a review, Darren said that he'd help you fight off any lizardmen attacks in your neighborhood, which is pretty darn awesome. You can visit the site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com, you can follow me on Twitter, I am @bftrick. That is all I got. Until next time, happy designing everyone. Bye-bye.

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