Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast where I sit down with a different independent game designer each week and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they’ve learned to get to where they are today. My name is Patrick Rauland and today I’ll bet talking to Kathleen Mercury, who is an educator who teaches board game design in school. Sorry, I’m so excited, and she recently had her game, Dirty Dragon, signed and she runs her own podcast. Kathleen, welcome to the show.
Kathleen Mercury: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited.
Patrick Rauland: Yay.
Kathleen Mercury: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
What Don’t You Do?
Patrick Rauland: Okay, so you do everything. You teach board game design. You have a game signed. You run your own podcast. What do you not do in the board game world? Is there a job that you don’t do?
Kathleen Mercury: You do not want to see my graphic design, because it’s basically a Google drawing. I do some pretty magical work in Google Docs as well, but no one would ever hire me ever to do any kind of graphic design or layout. So that’s a pretty hard no there.
Patrick Rauland: Okay. But you got the rest of it covered.
Kathleen Mercury: Yeah. I mean, I just … I’m the type of person where I got started playing games and then I met some game designers and it was like, “What? People actually make that? There’s actually somebody behind that?” And then just being the type of person who likes to figure things out and likes a challenge and I came up with an idea and it’s like I’m going to just play with this and see what happens and seven, eight years later, here we are.
How Long Have You Worked On Your Game?
Patrick Rauland: Is that seven years from the game that you just had signed? Is that how long you’ve been working on that?
Kathleen Mercury: Well, so I signed … So Dirty Dragons is now known as Dragnarok and the story is, it’s a three dimensional dexterity game. It’s going to be published by Colossal, and it’s basically the story is that you are dragons and you are tired of all these so called heroes trampling your rights and your autonomy and coming into your lair and stealing your gold and because you’re a dragon, you’re not really reasonable and so you’re just going to go and burn them and their village to the ground.
Kathleen Mercury: There’s all different types of dexterity actions that you can take … That take place in the game. It’s also scenario based, so you can have all kinds of different sort of … So like D&D fantasy adventures, which I love that part. So I’m really excited about it, because it’s a really fun game, but it started as Dirty Birdie with pigeons where everyone had a flock of pigeons and you were dropping poop cubes onto people and cars down below.
Kathleen Mercury: It’s funny, because I say that, people are like, “I want to buy that game.” And people are like, “You should have not let them change the theme.” Like I’ve heard the whole range, the whole gamut. And I say, “Yes, I understand that, but this is the first company that said, you know what? We’re going to make this.” Which I heard from plenty of others who they thought it was great. They thought it was hilarious. They thought it was too expensive and that was actually usually the stopping point. But now Colossal, they’re willing to take this on and so I’m excited.
Kathleen Mercury: It’s like, you know what? If that’s the sticking point, I could re-theme it. And it was interesting, especially letting go of some of the parts that I really loved. It was kind of hard to kill some sacred dragons. I think anyone who has a game in development with publishers understand that very well as far as what you thought maybe what the game was going to be and then what it turns in to, but I’ve always been really open, honestly, to that kind of feedback, that kind of process. I mean, I don’t think my ideas are sacred. I don’t feel like there’s only one way something can be done and I absolutely understand that game companies need this to be a product and they need to be able to sell this and they have to do what works best for them in their model.
Patrick Rauland: So you answered very nicely. I love how long that story is, because I think sometimes you just look at it and you’re like, “Oh, there’s the finished game. She thought of dragons and here it is and it’s done.”
Kathleen Mercury: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Patrick Rauland: But totally re-themed and I’m sure a lot of the mechanisms and other things [crosstalk 00:04:09].
Kathleen Mercury: Oh, yeah. Everything had to be looked at and it’s, especially looking at where it is now versus where it is then, I mean, it’s a totally different game. I mean, obviously there’s some key parts, but I love that challenge too, as far as making it what it needs to be and not necessarily what you want it to be. Yeah, killing sacred cows, I mean, that’s probably the best way to describe it when you have to take something out or you have that epiphany moment, which I love, where you’re just like, “I know what I need to do.” And then things come together and that’s the best feeling.
What is it Like Teaching Board Game Design?
Patrick Rauland: Yeah. All right. So you’re the only person I know that teaches board game design to kids. What is it like teaching that and where do you get to teach that? Do you work at an elven school somewhere?
Kathleen Mercury: Kind of, yeah. So I teach gifted kids. All the kids that are in my class qualify to be in our school’s gifted program. I do not think that only gifted kids can do it, but teaching gifted gives me a lot more creativity and autonomy over the program and what I do as far as what I do for kids. So I look for things where it’s about 10% information input and about 90% output and game design is a perfect avenue in which to address that, because really, at most, I give them about 30 pages of text and it’s like reference as far as like here’s all these different mechanics. Here’s some different ways to look at victory conditions. Here’s different ways to look at player objectives.
Kathleen Mercury: I mean, kind of like the nuts and bolts kind of pieces and all the rest of it just comes from their work. Their brainstorming. Their process. So it’s very process oriented, which works very, very well and the other reason … I mean, there are so many reasons. I could go on and on. If I were to teach one thing to kids forever, it would be this, because of how comprehensive it is in terms of so many different skills.
Kathleen Mercury: I mean, you think about rule writing. They’ve got technical writing and you’ve got all that. Just the prototype development process is just learning how to give feedback, learning how to receive feedback. I think that’s one of the most important parts as far as developing good gaming skills, but are also good human skills. Win nice, lose nice, play nice. All of those are important skills, just in general, and teaching game design lets me do that.
Kathleen Mercury: The best part is when you … It’s not just table top game design, but in my classes. I always call them geek training for life, because I also teach RPG design. I do a cosplay unit during the month of October. We’ve done film. Just anything where I’ve got them taking some sort of design parameter, honestly, and then saying, “Okay, what are you going to create within these parameters?” Giving them lots of tools and support along the way. It’s so much fun. Like I honestly have the best job and I love it.
Patrick Rauland: Can I go back to school? That’s what I’d like to do right now. I want to go back to school and take cosplay design, RPG design, game design.
Kathleen Mercury: Yeah.
Patrick Rauland: That sounds like a blast. How old are these kids? What grade and how old? I can never match age to grade?
Kathleen Mercury: No, that’s all right. I teach seventh and eighth grade. So my kids usually come to me when they’re around 12, plus or minus, depending on when they were born, and they leave around 14. That’s a really cool spread, because at 12 they still can be pretty young in terms of how they see the world or if they even realize there’s a world going on around them sometimes, but you know, by 14 or so, they’re so different. I mean, that’s why I like teaching middle school. I mean, neurologically what happens between zero and two years of age is equal only in life to what happens between 12 and 15 in terms of that sort of phenomenal rewiring of the brain and total regrowth and development of who they are and what they are.
Kathleen Mercury: That’s what I love about doing this is having that really key time of brain development in which I get to work with them and teach them what failure is. What do you do? A lot of my students have never really struggled in school, so with game design, you make bad games and you learn how to make them better. They’ve never had that kind of make something bad kind of approach to any kind of learning. A lot of what I do is more like focus on the interpersonal side of this, not just … I mean, we get to the technical side of game design, but really for them to learn how to work through that and to be okay with something at the end that probably still isn’t even finished after all that time.
Patrick Rauland: I think that’s so cool and I wish I had a … It sounds like you’re teaching good humans or teaching how to be a good human through game design, which sounds amazing.
Kathleen Mercury: Right, right. It’s honestly, like I’m so thankful that I get to do this every day and I just … I feel so lucky and fortunate. I work really, really hard and I’m so appreciative that I get to do this.
What Have You Learned From Your Students?
Patrick Rauland: What are some of the things that … I mean, I’m imagining if you are teaching game design to kids … I should also say I’m an online educator. I teach online courses and I always learn from my students. I’m curious, what have you learned from your kids about game design?
Kathleen Mercury: Take the brakes off.
Patrick Rauland: Take the brakes off?
Kathleen Mercury: Yeah. Because a lot of times, if I’m approaching a project, like if I’m designing … For example, I was given, before Gen Con, a person and there was a game company that wanted a game designed around that person. So it’s not just thinking about a game for that person, it’s like what’s the type of game? What’s the game play? What’s the components? How big is the box going to be? All those kinds of things and you work with those parameters and I work really well with parameters, but the thing with my students is, when there’s a really great example from Dragnorok where I wanted there to be a lot of different type of dexterity actions. There’s flicking. There’s dropping. There’s a couple other things that haven’t really been done before and it had a bunch of components on the table when we were play testing, because there’s this one element that was a little hinky.
Kathleen Mercury: It wasn’t quite working right and so I had a ruler on the table and then I had some really thick, wooden disks from like caveman curling. One of my students said, “Can’t you just have them roll the big disk down a ramp?” And I was like, “Oh my God.” It was just like, I don’t even need to play test it. I know that’s going to go into the game forever. It was literally just looking at the clutter on the table and like, “Why can’t you do this?” And it’s like, “You are correct.”
Kathleen Mercury: That’s the other thing too, with my students, especially for play testing and that’s one thing I’m a little bit spoiled by, because if I want to get a bunch of play tests in with a lot of different groups, granted they’re all going to be 12, 13, 14 years old, but I can get a lot of play testing done. But the thing is, is while they aren’t necessarily harsh critics, I mean, they tend to love a lot of different things and that’s not a bad thing in my book at all. I want to know what they like. But the thing is, their ability to come up with ideas that are just so unfiltered by any kind of lens or restraint we put on ourselves as designers. It’s like, why can’t you do this?
Kathleen Mercury: You always say, like I always want the 100 ideas even if 97 are bad so I can get those three really good ones. Honestly, with them, you get more than three. They come up with some really unexpected insights and ideas for the games that I’m always so happy to jump on.
Patrick Rauland: I love that. I was going to ask, and I think I saw you … Or I’m sorry, I know I saw you at Tabletop Network earlier this year. If I remember correctly, wasn’t the ruler actually used for like, you need to drop it from a foot above the table?
Kathleen Mercury: Right.
Patrick Rauland: It was used as like a … So it’s cool that it was used in the game, and I think you and I being adults are like, “There’s a ruler. It measures things. That is what a ruler does.” And the kids are like, “But look, if you put it on it’s side, you can now roll things on it.”
Kathleen Mercury: Right and it’s like, “Of course you can, oh my gosh.” And that’s the thing too, it’s like what other uses for the ruler? Oh, we can have a dragon hockey stick. Like why not? You know what I mean? There’s so many things where we just get in that tunnel, especially if you look at something for so long and we kind of forget.
Kathleen Mercury: I have another game that was signed with a company and we actually just got the rights back. The company, in the end, they sort of shifted their focus and there were no plans to put it on the calendar, and I really love this game. Luckily they were willing to give us the rights back and so now it’s another one that I’m going to be shopping around again, but it’s kind of cool, because they’ve had the game for over a year and now that we’ve been playing it again and stuff like that, we’re seeing things that we didn’t see before. Or things that we just kind of skimmed over, “Well, that’s just what happens,” as opposed to, “No, this is actually something we could make better.” And so having that time away from it, you forget all the different things and all the reasons why you did something.
Kathleen Mercury: It’s like, what does this game need to be? Because we’re able to see it now with fresh perspective and so I love that. Especially if I can make the game even better and then find it with a publisher who is legitimately excited about it and it’s something that fits really well for them, it’s such a good opportunity and I’m so excited I can just jump on that.
What Games Have Adult Designers Skipped?
Patrick Rauland: I love it. One of the things you mentioned in your talk, and also I was cruising around your website earlier today is you recommend playing a lot of different games. Just as like here’s pickup and deliver, sort of the basic mechanisms. One of the things I noticed is I’ve probably only played half of those and I consider myself someone who has played a lot of games. I’m wondering, are there games that you think adult designers have skipped or missed for whatever reason and that we need to go back and play?
Kathleen Mercury: Well, one thing that every teacher has as sort of the great enemy of their life is the clock. I only have 50 minutes with my students and even if something super amazing, I really can’t keep them much beyond that. That’s not fair to them. It’s not fair to their other teachers. So I really need to have games that you can learn, set up and play in that 45, 50 minute slot. I mean, not always, if they’re taking their time or whatever, but generally speaking. So a lot of games of what I have are what people would consider lighter games.
Kathleen Mercury: What I’m always looking for are games that are fun, that play within that time period and that are appealing to my students. I used to have them play games that I thought were really great for specific reasons. A good example of this is Alhambra. I love Alhambra. I think it’s a brilliant game. It has a really nice, mellow kind of game feel to it, but the thing is, for my students, they thought it was boring. So they’re not necessarily going to be excited about or interested in discussing the key elements of the game and the game design. The boring part just kind of overshadows that. So if I have them play any game, it’s got to be something that they find really, really fun.
Kathleen Mercury: I’m always looking for games that fit in that time sphere that are really fun, but also show them different types of mechanics, because I want them to see what’s possible. One thing that’s important when it comes to being a gamer and then game designer is there’s a type of literacy, like gaming literacy, just like you have when reading. If you want to write a book, you have to be literate in terms of what goes into a book, your literary devices and all that other stuff. Game design is the same way. It has it’s own type of literacy and you can’t really design games without developing that, because otherwise if I gave all my kids on the first day paper and some dice, some markers, whatever, and I said, “Make a game.” What game is it going to look like? Tell me right now.
Patrick Rauland: Monopoly.
Kathleen Mercury: Yes. In fact, if you Google how to make a game … I did a presentation. I Googled, “How to make a game,” and of the like 12 images that came up on Google Images, all but one, well, there were like two. One was kind of … It was like circular, but basically all but two were all Monopoly. Just move around a square. Land on a space. Something happens. Because that’s a lot of what they know. And so by giving them a lot of different types of games, it gives them those tools to say, “Wait, I really like this from this game.” I mean, because that’s what I tell them. I say, you know, “Use all of these different components to make your game.”
Patrick Rauland: Fun fact, in eighth grade or ninth grade, we had some sort of history final thing and my teacher gave us a couple of different options of you can either write a 10 page paper or make a video or make a game, and my group decided to make a game.
Kathleen Mercury: Of course.
Patrick Rauland: And it was Monopoly, because it was like ships. You’re colonializing? That’s not the right word.
Kathleen Mercury: Colonizing?
Patrick Rauland: Colonizing? Colonizing. Thank you, teacher.
Kathleen Mercury: You’re welcome.
Patrick Rauland: You’re colonizing the world and like I think it was basically Monopoly with variable player powers. That was all that I added to it. You know what I mean? It was like, “You can buy this place for this much.” Yeah, because I didn’t have any … In eighth grade, I had none of that.
Kathleen Mercury: Right. I mean, on the first day with me, the first week they come in, I say, “Hey, it’s good to see you. I’m Ms. Mercury. We’re going to get to know each other really well, but you need to sit at a table with one of these games. You and your group need to read the rules. You need to set it up and you need to play it. I’m here to answer a few little questions, but I want to see if you can figure this out on your own.” Hi, how are you? Go to work. And so they … I have them play games from the very start and one student last year, his table was Deep Sea Adventure by Oink Games, which I love. If you don’t have it, that one is so fun.
Kathleen Mercury: He was walking out of the room and he said, “Ms. Mercury, that was the best game I’ve ever played.” And I was like, “Hey, buddy, we’re just getting started.” Because that’s the other thing too is a lot of times, I mean, like Target is having a much better selection. Barnes and Noble is kind of backing away from their games, but getting kids to play better games means they want to play games. It means they’ll stay away from devices. I don’t have a problem with devices, but if you want your kids to hang out with other kids and engage in social interaction, if you want them to be at a table playing games, give them better games.
Kathleen Mercury: Monopoly has it’s high points, but if you really want to play Monopoly, play Monopoly Deal. It’s the card game. It’s 15 minutes. It’s all the fun parts without the [crosstalk 00:18:44].
Patrick Rauland: Oh, good.
Kathleen Mercury: But get kids playing better games. I had a parent at a bar mitzvah. We’re on the dance floor and she was telling me about how her daughter wanted her to buy these three different games that she played in my class and the mom said, “I will never, ever tell my daughter that I will not buy her a board game. If she wants a game, I will buy that for her in a second.” And she was like, “I bought all three of those games,” because they want their kids playing games at tables with them as a family.
Patrick Rauland: That sounds so good, right?
Kathleen Mercury: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Patrick Rauland: I was just talking to someone earlier today just about screen time, right? How much time I spend in front of the … It’s funny, I love talking to people, but even you and I, right, because we’re separated by distance, like we’re talking and I’m looking at a giant 30 inch monitor. I think I just distracted myself. Hold on. Let me go back to my pre-scribed questions here.
Patrick Rauland: Where were we going there? All right. Okay, so you signed Dirty Dragons which is now, sorry, it’s now called?
Kathleen Mercury: Dragnarok.
Patrick Rauland: Dragnarok, that’s actually a pretty cool name. I like that.
Kathleen Mercury: Yeah.
What Has Changed About Your Process?
Patrick Rauland: Now that that’s signed, what has changed about your process? If you were to start a brand new game from scratch this year, what would you do differently?
Kathleen Mercury: I don’t know that I would … I mean, there’s a lot of things I would do differently, just because I’ve changed so much as a person and as a designer since then. I was inspired by a Girl Scout song called Dirty Birdie and that’s where the whole game kind of came out from there, quite honestly, but especially now, if I’m thinking about, honestly what I’m looking for is challenge. I’m disappointed when I play a game where it’s got elements that are so derivative of other games and they could be put together really well and there might be that one thing, like, “Oh, here’s the one kind of special sauce thing,” and that’s okay. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of games, especially like … I’ll never be a big, complicated Euro game. That’s not me. But I am always looking for what’s something to do.
Kathleen Mercury: Like this game that I was working on earlier, was like a tile laying game, but I wanted to do it differently than anything I’d experienced before. So it’s like how can I really play around with this space? I like games that play with game space. Dirty Birdie started out as the three dimensional city. Now it’s set up more like a village inside of a valley. The game that I have, Crash Course, the one that I’ll be shopping around again, that one has a modular race board that looks different than most modular race boards.
Kathleen Mercury: So I always just try to play with the gaming space, what hasn’t been done. I think, for me, that’s always something really … I mean, everybody tries to do something … No one is like saying, “Hey, how can I take [inaudible 00:21:40] and do this?”
Patrick Rauland: Yeah.
Kathleen Mercury: But there are times though where … And that can be done well. I’m just saying what works for me, not necessarily for other people. But for me, it’s like I want a challenge. I want to do something that is just outside of my sort of known skill set and to see if I can make it work.
What Mechanisms Do You Want to Us?
Patrick Rauland: Are there any mechanisms or something that you’ve tried to get to work and you just haven’t been able to get it to work, but you really, really want it to work?
Kathleen Mercury: I’m really bad at card games. I’m really bad. I mean, and it’s something that should be so easy, but it’s just getting all the cards to work, the right number of cards in the right distribution. I’m not a mathematician. I’m such a visual person, which is why my games usually have … It’s that whole visual playing with the space sort of thing. So when it has that underlying … You know, in a card game where it’s just like peer relationships between different cards, different numbers, quantities, percentages, all that. When it comes to that with me, I’m kind of lost, honestly. I’ve tried to make some card games that just didn’t work. Didn’t work.
Kathleen Mercury: I mean, I think for me, that’s why one of the things kind of on my bucket list of games to make is I want to make a good card game that works and I’m excited about, however it does, whatever it does. I’ve just not had any success with that. I never played Magic. I never played any kind of collectible card game, so I think especially when people have played those games, they have a lot of in depth understanding and knowledge of cards and responses and reactions and balance that I just don’t have.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Well, so I wonder if I … The one game I’m working on right now called Fry Thief is a small card game, but it’s very simple, right? Like it’s a 16 card game. There’s very few numbers on all the cards. I’m kind of amazed at the people who design like an economy in a spreadsheet before making the game. You know what I mean? They’re like, “All right, so this card is three power and two life points, it’s going to have to cost this much,” and like they have that formula pre-made. I definitely do not design games that way. That makes no sense to me.
Kathleen Mercury: Right. And that can … I mean, that’s honestly a really effective way of doing it. You know what I mean? I think you have to watch to make sure the game’s not too balanced, because it has to have a little soul and sometimes for a little soul, you can have … I mean, I don’t mind games that have a little swingingness, a little unbalance, because otherwise it can get really mathy and predictable in terms of this, then this, then this, then this, and boom, there we go.
Kathleen Mercury: I mean, there are people, I’m not one of them, who can look at a game, math out exactly everything they’re going to do and the order they’re going to do it and some games can facilitate that. I don’t want to design a game that would allow that, because if I’m going to be sitting at a table for 45 minutes, I want it to be fresh every time it comes to my turn.
What’s Something Worth Spending Money On?
Patrick Rauland: Love it. Let’s change gears a little bit. Especially being a teacher, I’m curious, has there been anything that you’ve spent money on that is just like the most valuable thing ever as a game designer?
Kathleen Mercury: Yes. The one thing I’ve probably spent the most money on, of my school budget, are plastic Learning Resources, that’s the company, Learning Resources one centimeter cubes. You can get them in buckets of like 500 for like $20, $25 and I probably buy four or five buckets of those cubes a year. By far, that’s the best thing I spend money on. The other good things I spend money on, I like to buy from Print and Play Productions. Andrew Tolson is super great. I love him. And I buy lots of blanks in squares, hexes and circles, because those are really hard to cut out consistently and it’s just nice to have all those blanks.
Kathleen Mercury: The other thing is RPG gaming paper in hexes and in squares, because that makes great prototyping paper. Kids can just roll out however much they need. They don’t have to try to piece together smaller pieces of graph paper. They don’t have to try to draw all the lines. They can just roll it out. Yeah, so those are the three things, from a game design standpoint, that I value.
Kathleen Mercury: But honestly, one of the reasons why I love game design and when I talk about it and teach it, work with teachers, it’s so cheap. I mean, I think you have to have games to start off, to get that gaming literacy in, but if you want to teach games, you probably are a game designer or there’s lots of resources out there to find at least some free print and play. Just some things that are different or whatever, but the actual resources that you need, index cards, paper, scissors, markers, pennies, glue sticks. You can make games out of that. And so you don’t have to have walls of computers and expensive subscriptions to various educational programs for kids.
Kathleen Mercury: I mean, those are all great and I think there’s value in that, because our kids spend their lives connected to the world through various devices and I think that’s great, but you can do game design on cheap, cheap, dirty, dirty scrap trash materials and I love that. It’s like the cardboard-
Patrick Rauland: Dirty, dirty, scratch, scratch materials. The new name for the podcast.
Kathleen Mercury: All right. It’s like Calvin and Hobbes. You know, a cardboard box becomes a transmogrifier.
Patrick Rauland: Yes.
Kathleen Mercury: That’s exactly what this is.
Patrick Rauland: Yep. I love that. So I’ve noticed I love buying components. I think there’s just something so … I feel so good, like I have a warm, fuzzy feeling when I’m like, “Oh, now I have more D6’s and I can put these in this prototype and they can just stay there,” but it’s cheap, right? Like I can buy … I think I bought 200 cubes for a friend of mine at Gen Con and they were the metal cubes and they were slightly more expensive, but still so cheap.
Kathleen Mercury: Yeah. My only probably with those is I get really precious about them. I bought some bigger meeples and then it’s like, “Okay, what game am I going to use these in? If I use these in this game, I spent $12 on these meeples and I have to make sure-” You know what I mean? As opposed to just working with like, “Let me just grab some garbage.” I’ve got all kinds of just recycled bits. I get really precious sometimes with the bought ones.
What Does Success Look Like?
Patrick Rauland: What does success look like in the board game world for you?
Kathleen Mercury: You know, it’s kind of nice hitting it from different levels like I do. Obviously the number one thing is I want to see one of my games on the shelf. I’ve had other kind of experiences that other game designers have had too where I had a game with a company, they were excited about it, that company is no longer in business. The one company, they changed direction, so I got my game back. Colossal with Dirty … With Dragnarok, but we still have lots of things to work through when it comes to production and all that. So I have a lot going on as far as different types of gaming experiences that prevent your games from getting on the shelf right away.
Kathleen Mercury: So I would say that’s probably the big one as far as that goes, is just getting a game on the shelf. I’m sorry, what was the full questions?
Patrick Rauland: Oh, just what does success look like?
Kathleen Mercury: Yeah. Then as far as the other work I do, I mean, making games is for fun, but teaching kids to design games and teaching other teachers and sharing all my resources, because on my website, KathleenMercury.com, I put all of my resources on there for free. I don’t have ads. I get no money. I have to pay money every year to keep the domain, that sort of thing. It’s just purely done because I want to help others do it. It’s all Google Drive stuff so they can just download and make their own copies and change it and modify it, do it better than me, that’s cool. Because when I started, there wasn’t anything out there and it’s like, “Well, if I’m going to make all this, then I want other people to do it.” And doing that has kind of led to all these other opportunities with podcasting and presenting to other teachers.
Kathleen Mercury: Honestly, for me, my second big avenue of success is being able to effectively convey how great it is to teach games and how much kids can benefit and how much kids can learn and how engaging it is for you as an educator in terms of that. I mean, there’s certain trends my kids have, but every year there’s surprises across the board. It is never the same twice and I need that.
Overrated Underrated Game
Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Well, that’s awesome. So I like to end my show with a little game. It’s called Overrated, Underrated, and from our talk before recording, I don’t think you’re familiar with it?
Kathleen Mercury: I’m not.
Patrick Rauland: Excellent. Great. I like throwing people in the deep end. So the way this game works is I’m going to give you an idea, a concept, a phrase, and then you need to take a … I’m going to force you to take a position, if you think it’s overrated or underrated.
Kathleen Mercury: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Patrick Rauland: So I could say professional microphones for podcast interviews and you would need to say if you think it’s overrated or underrated and then like a one sentence description of why. Does that make sense?
Kathleen Mercury: Okay. It makes sense.
Patrick Rauland: All right. So this first one is sort of a genre and I’m going to say the classic games like Clue, Sorry, Monopoly, things like that. Are those overrated or underrated?
Kathleen Mercury: I would definitely say overrated, I mean, just because they’re easy to make. They’re easy to produce and they’re not necessarily great games. This is more than a sentence.
Patrick Rauland: That’s fine.
Kathleen Mercury: But for example, with Clue, we play it as [inaudible 00:31:14] replacement. We take out the dice completely and you just move to where you want to go with your … It makes the game go by a lot faster. It’s a lot more of a problem solving, puzzle solving game and kids are like, “Oh, this is better.” You’re like, “Yeah, because the dice is tedious.” Sorry, you just hope it ends fast. Monopoly, as I said earlier, get Monopoly Deal. You won’t need to play Monopoly ever again. If you really love that playing around the table as a family playing as a family, get Catan. It’ll give you that same kind of experience, but in a shorter, more condensed game play.
Kathleen Mercury: And then as far as Mouse Trap goes, that’s honestly, and this is where I know this well from working on a dexterity game. Components are everything and you modify components, it modifies the game and you’ve got to get that just right and how many times. But kind of the cleverness of Mouse Trap is if it doesn’t work, ha, ha, ha, that’s part of the game and I love that they have this malfunction as far as the game design.
Kathleen Mercury: I love The Magicians the book. I didn’t watch much past the first episode of The Magicians the TV show. I would like to. I would like to, I just … As we talked about it, I’m a busy kid, so I don’t necessarily watch a ton of TV other than Great British Baking Show. But I loved, honestly, I loved The Magicians. I’m a huge Harry Potter dork. I love that it was a grown up, more complex, darker. I’m very okay with Quintin, the main character, being incredibly unlikeable. I’m totally fine with that. Some people are not, but I love The Magicians series. It’s not perfect, but I really felt like as reading that, the writer was definitely trying to take chances, which I appreciate.
Patrick Rauland: Love it. Now, this one I found on your website. Star Wars Carcassonne, which I didn’t even know existed. Is that overrated or underrated?
Kathleen Mercury: I love it. I love it. I think it’s the best way to introduce people to Carcassonne. The theme is a lot more engaging than medieval walled villages. I mean, granted, when I say it, how could I say that? I’m kidding. Star Wars is really fun. The nice thing about Star Wars Carcassonne is that it takes out farms, because for new players, that’s really hard to kind of accurately convey what that is in terms of how it … And because it is such a huge impact on scoring, in some ways the first game is just a wash, because unless you explain it really well and they really get it, and it’s not that hard, but it takes a lot of explanation for farms.
Kathleen Mercury: In Star Wars Carcassonne, there are no farms and it has a battle mechanic where you roll dice depending on basically how strong you are in a particular area. It’s a simple D6 system, but it works well. So for me, especially working with my students, it’s got that tile laying kind of strategic element to it in terms of where you place your meeples, but it also has that battle mechanic where you can be the underdog in a fight and you can win. And so having that kind of swing is very Star Wars.
Kathleen Mercury: I love Star Wars Carcassonne. I think if you have Carcassonne and you love Carcassonne, it’s definitely worth getting.
Patrick Rauland: Okay, this one will require just a little backstory. This is the first time I went to Gen Con in about eight years.
Kathleen Mercury: Oh, it’s changed a little.
Patrick Rauland: And one of the things that I noticed that was different is there are now food trucks at Gen Con. What do you think of those? Overrated or underrated?
Kathleen Mercury: Depending on the time of day, they’re either overrated or underrated. If you go out at dinner time or after the vendor hall closes, good luck, Chuck. But I think it’s great to have. I think when you have that many people, it’s hard to have the right number. But I like a food truck. I like everything about ordering my food out in the open and sitting in the hot sun and eating something strange, so I’m cool with food trucks at Gen Con, because God knows with restaurants you’re going to wait two hours anyway if you’re nearby.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I think there’s a secret trick at conventions to eat when everyone else is doing something else. So yeah, eat lunch at like 3:00 and eat dinner at like 8:00 and you’ll be much happier.
Kathleen Mercury: Yeah. Yeah.
Patrick Rauland: Well, Kathleen, thank you so much for being on the show.
Kathleen Mercury: Oh, you’re so welcome.
Patrick Rauland: Where can people find you?
Kathleen Mercury: Where can you find me? Well, I already said I have a website, KathleenMercury.com and you can email me directly through the website too, if you want. On Twitter I’m @mmmmmmmercury with seven M’s. So M, M, M, M, M, M, M. I lost count, @mercury with seven M’s, and that’s a really great way to get in contact with me as far as the show. I mean, not the show, as far as anything related to games, game design.
Patrick Rauland: Where does that handle come from?
Kathleen Mercury: Well, so my last name, Mercury, if you want the real story, Mercury is my real last name, because I found out when i had a change of life status from married to empowered, single female, I found out that whatever you tell the judge to be is what your name is and I was originally going to change my middle name to Wolfgang, because I thought that was funny, but then I realized for multiple reasons, my maiden name, no one ever said it right. No one ever spelled it right. I didn’t like the idea of going back to start, plus the whole other host of options, Mercury is what I landed on. Someone else had the name Mercury, so I don’t like it when people take their name and just tack on random numbers at the back, or maybe they’re not random, but to me, they always look random.
Kathleen Mercury: So I just figured if there were seven M’s and Mercury, probably nobody else had it and I was correct.
Patrick Rauland: I love it. Well, thank you again for being on the show.
Kathleen Mercury: You are so welcome.
Patrick Rauland: Dear listener … Yay. Dear listener, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. Now, I talked with Kathleen about this ahead of time and backstory, she runs a home brew Harry Potter RPG. If you leave a review, she said she’d be willing to cast vomit slugs from He Who Shall Not Be Named’s original wand, which you made a module to? Made an adventure for in your RPG?
Kathleen Mercury: It was great.
Patrick Rauland: Oh my God. This is a super … One of the biggest nerds on my show so far, which is making me very happy. You can visit the site, indieboardgamedesigners.com. You can follow me on Twitter. I’m @BFTrick, that’s B as in board game, F as in fun and trick as in trick taking games. Until next time, everyone, happy designing. Bye-bye.