Kris Fosh

#142 – Kris Fosh

Patrick: 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'm going to be talking with Kris Fosh, who designed Catapult Kingdoms, which is on Kickstarter as we are recording. It'll probably be off Kickstarter by the time you hear this, by about a week or so. There will be late backing, and we will talk about that a little bit later, but Kris, welcome to the show.

Kris: It is great to be here, thank you. Thanks for the call.

Introduction

Patrick: Yes. I've been following your campaign for– I think I've been following your game for about a year, but obviously the audience, most of them have not been doing that. I have a series of lightning round questions just so that we understand who we're talking to. You ready?

Kris: Excellent. Let's go for it.

Patrick: All right. Favorite castle in the whole world?

Kris: Bodiam Castle, Southeast England.

Patrick: OK, so I have never heard of that. What makes it so cool?

Kris: It's classic. It's [inaudible], mode battlements, and archery going on. It's when you think of a Castle, and this is what it looks like.

Patrick: Awesome. OK, got it. Like, the archetype. I love it. How about your favorite medieval weapon?

Kris: Catapult. It's got to be.

Patrick: Then what's a game you play with someone every single time at a convention? When we can have conventions again.

Kris: Oh my God, there's so many. I love anything that you can just pick up and play something. I love the super social types, and I'm always looking at something new, so anything that just gets– You've got minutes to do so just get around a game and have some fun. I'm always up to something new. I can't think of anything off the top of my head.

How did you get into board games and board game design?

Patrick: OK, great. First real question, Kris. How did you get into board games and board game design?

Kris: Board gaming? All my life. I'm an 80s child, so board gaming was totally the golden age, as it were, at the time. Loads of just weird and wonderful ideas and games being put out there, so coming into the game design side of things, it's the fact that I'm now a dad of two.

I've got an eight and five-year-old now, and when I started designing, it was just really a case of I couldn't find the kind of games that I played and enjoyed without spending hundreds on the originals from people who had kept their basements locked, and everything else. I just started designing the kind of fun that we had with my own twists on it, and we started doing a few things. It's just sprouted from there.

Where did the idea of Catapult Kingdoms come from?

Patrick: I think if I remember some of your early play tests correctly or some of your early videos– I've been following your game for a little bit. I want to say I saw some videos with you and your son playing the game, right? So you also get to– What's cool is I think a lot of board game designers make complicated games that you can't always play with your kids, but your game seems like it works perfectly to play with your kids.

Kris: This was it. It was made to– My boys love nothing more than to make and then destroy what the other one has made. Whether it's Lego, sandcastles, whatever that would be. This all came out of that. It was a case of “Now, that's the point of the game.”

Even though they make some incredible structures out of the pieces that we make, it's a case of, “Make something up, but they know it's going to be destroyed within minutes.” And that's fine, it's fun seeing how long it can last or how it breaks and just seeing the different ways that they will take something.

Because in my head, I designed these pieces to create a castle. I had an idea that it would have a base, it would have mid-bricks and arches and parapets, or whatever. They would just turn everything on its head and come up with ideas I could never have imagined. That's been a real joy of just seeing how they'll just grab the boxes, build something up, break it down and do it all over again. They do it for ages.

That's been a real joy, a real fun thing to do. Don't get me wrong, and they have never once asked if there are any rules to this game. That's one thing. It's like, “It would be great if just once we could try them out.” But no, when we started the Kickstarter campaign actually, on the launch evening as it were, for us because we're in Berlin right now.

As the evening went, just before they were going to bed, we watched this playthrough and on YouTube, and they said, “What are those cards that they use?” And he's like, “Have you not seen the cards that you've got in the game for my eight year old?” And he was like, “No. Can we use those next time?”

And he was like, “Yeah. If you like, we could try that.” It was just like that, and like I said, we've been playing it for years, or whatever. A year. We never even thought about it. But it's really good fun, and it's whatever you make of it. However you want to play, there's an option there.

Patrick: I think that's underrated or not appreciated enough. To have a game that people can literally take out of the box and play with, and maybe it has to be a little bit more– We're going to talk about this in a minute, but a little bit more of a toy-like game.

But there's something nice about people who don't want to read the rules, don't have to. They just take out the pieces, they put them together. And just for all the listeners at home, this is a game where you make a castle, and you have these catapults, and I'm pretty sure they have rubber bands, and there's ballistas.

There's other stuff, but basically, you build a castle, and you put some little figures on top, and you have catapults, and you pull them back, and they launch forward, and you get to fling little plastic boulders at your opponent's castle. It's great that you can just play with the pieces itself, and there are cards, and there are actual rules more than just “Destroy.” But I think that's underrated, and I think that's something that more board game designers should look into.

Kris: This is the thing my background is very much in digital gaming. I've been making everything from MMORPGs to triple-A titles to mobile titles over my career in the last 14-15 years. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that I am working in a– Certainly, when we moved into mobile, a very competitive space that if you couldn't play the game within say 30 seconds to a minute of opening it up, then you'll just close it down and delete the app and you'll find something else.

That mentality came into this a little bit, and it also came from the fact that my family's bilingual. My wife is German, and so my children are bilingual, most of their friends only speak German. Naturally, as we're living in Berlin. It is a case of, “I didn't want to make a game that couldn't be explained to them,” so this traverses any language barriers.

I was also very fortunate to be able to demo Catapult Kingdoms at Essen last year like you say when we still could do conventions. This was a wonderful thing, how convention friendly this game was, because like you say you have people come to the booth and you just said to them “OK, here is your bricks. Here are your catapults. You build, and the first person to finish building fires, taking turns to build, and you learn as you went and that sort of thing.”

We introduce the cards, and people were just there 15 minutes tops, or however long it took them to destroy their opponent's castles, and then while they were asking questions about it, the next person has stopped by and set up. I literally didn't sit down for days because it was just a constant turnover of people who wonderfully wanted to stop by and have a go.

Patrick: Let me ask you this, your intention was to make this game on your own, correct? And then you happened to find a publisher?

Kris: Exactly that, yeah. To be honest with you, I was never even 100% sure initially that they were going to be more than just something we'd play at home. I put it into many of the great Facebook groups that are out there that are full of incredibly passionate gamers and game designers, and so on. More and more people were like, “I love this game. I want to play it with my kids.” It became less toy and more game to sort of flesh it out, and so one of the things I was doing was I was invited to take my prototype to a game convention in Berlin.

Very small, sort of in convention states. Most of it was digital gaming, and there were a few board games there. It just so happened that Vesuvius Media found out I would be there, made sure that they had a stand next to mine, as they were thinking of making a game along a similar vein. [Inaudible] and said to me, “You're done. For a bit of tweaking and a little bit of work on this and you're ready to go, whereas we're just in the ideas stage.”

So they were just like, “If we could work together, then let's do it.” And I gave it some thought over time, because like you say, initially, I thought I'd just do it on my own. But then I thought, “I don't have the experience to bring this to the product stage. I can make the game, but I don't want to be 3D printing and taking a week to produce a box that maybe who knows how many backers are waiting for, or something like that. This is the kind of thing that they know, they know what they're doing.” It was just like, “After all, I know if I want this to go well, these are the guys to do it with.” And it's working out very well so far.

Patrick: It's great to hear that. Constantly talking with other board game designers, they're trying to sell their games to publishers, and I love when a publisher is like, “Man, we want to make a game like this. Look, a designer has the game we want to make.” Like it was just a perfect match.

Kris: It was. It was that sort of fate blending of just perfect timing, and we've just sort of gelled.

Your game feels closer to a toy instead of a game. How is that different?

Patrick: It's great. So I did want to talk to you about the toy-like nature of your game, and I guess maybe– Do you have any thoughts on how is it different to make a more toy-like game than a more, all about let's say terraforming Mars. Where there's lots of cards and resources, how do you have to think differently about making a toy-like game instead of a think-y board game with cards and resources and stuff?

Kris: I think you identify exactly what it is you want to produce when you start it. For me, when it comes to game design, no matter what it is, how big or small, I always try to have three pillars, to begin with. Everything from that point on has to identify, or it has to go at least with one of those pillars, but ideally two if it can't be all three. I think with this one, and my three pillars were construction, destruction, and fun.

The idea of that, I began with very simple blocks of just a few different sized blocks. Some were cubes, and some were more rectangular and so on, and then a couple of different sizes of catapults and different sizes of boulders, all made from rubber and all 3D printed for the boulders. Just standard, whatever I could get my hands on for the 3D printing.

I put it initially to my kids who were very young and then also to my nephews, who were low teens at the time, and even with my nephews, they played it for an hour straight. I was like, “Look. Can you just come off of Call of Duty for a little bit?” Or whatever it was that they were playing at the moment, and say, “Look. Can you just give this a go?” We were using Playmobil figures and all sorts to bulk it up because as soon as they started playing, they wanted more from it than what they were getting.

They were just churning it over and over again, finding new ways to play, and it was wonderful to see that. It was a case of, for the longevity and broader appeal, I then started to branch out to make sure that there was more game and less toy to it. Make sure that there was just something to play and not just something– Just something that would engage you to do more than just set up and destroy, set up, and destroy.

Because that's fun to start with, but then it showed that you wanted more. That's where the tactic cards came in, and again, there was no text on the cards. There is no text on the cards or anything, and they just have icons to refer to a cheat sheet. But it was a case of you've got those there.

You look through your cards, you're handed out the cards at the beginning of the game, and you look at those, and you're like “OK, so this one traitor means that on one turn I could play the card and I can use my opponent's catapult instead of my own.” So you play that at some point and then all of a sudden you're behind enemy lines launching it at point-blank and that sort of thing.

Which certainly makes it fun. The look on your opponent's face when they realize they haven't looked at the rules quite so well, and things like that. But then at the same time, often people get overexcited and fire the thing at their lines anyway because they fired it too far.

It's all fun, but it also means that with that, the fun element also came from the quick turnaround. Because you're not going to want to just start again. Even if you lose all your players and you have not knocked a single one of your opponents down, you'll soon be building again. So the frustration melts away because you're like, “I'll just give it another go.”

Patrick: That's great. I love it, and I like the three pillars. These are the three things I want my game to do, and I'm willing to do anything as long as it fits into the three pillars. That's a great thing to think about with your game.

Kris: I think so, it gives you really good reference when it comes to that sort of thing. For me, anyway. It's always worked for me.

Did you consider a 3d printing pledge level?

Patrick: That's great. So, I want to say early on you were 3D printing all your prototypes, if I remember correctly. Did you ever–? I'm looking at your Kickstarter campaign, did you ever consider a Kickstarter–? Or sorry, not a Kickstarter, but did you ever consider a 3D printing pledge?

Because I have a 3D printer coming soon and now I'm like, “I know you originally 3D printed it. I wonder if I could get a 3D–” Just the print files, and I don't have to pay $15 dollars shipping or whatever shipping costs. Do you ever think about that?

Kris: It was definitely something I thought about and requested, as well, like people when they were asking. Because like you say, a lot of people who did follow along with the campaign have seen that I've made quite a few different prototype bricks to see how we go.

Then when it comes to mass production, obviously you reduce the overhead by reducing so many different variations and so on. But it's been agreed between Vesuvius, and I think that it's a case of “This is our selling point. So we want to make sure that we maintain what it is we're selling.” For the time being, in this campaign anyway, there'll be no price level for 3D printing.

Patrick: Got it. Yeah, totally reasonable. This is so cool, and I love it. Do you have–? Now that you've published this game, do you want to make more games? Do you want to do this more? Or are you just going to go back to maybe using game design as a hobby?

Kris: Yeah, This is the thing. I love designing games and seeing them come into that. I would definitely love to see a few more ideas that I've had in the background and see what happens.

Working with Vesuvius has been a real joy, certainly, when it comes to the campaign and everything, they've totally taken care of that. I'm just sitting back and enjoying the show. For that, I'd love to carry on with that and see what other things we can come up with together.

Do you have a white whale of game design?

Patrick: Do you have a white whale of game design, something that you try to figure out? Or, games you've worked on but maybe haven't been able to crack them yet?

Kris: Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. That's what the great thing about having publishers, but not just them having such an incredible community online that you can put ideas out there. I totally support the idea of putting out half-baked ideas, just ideas that you've come up with overnight just while you were trying to sleep and your brain's going into overdrive. Things that share, and I know a lot of people are scared that people are going to steal your idea, but you can't make anything amazing totally solo. You need those ideas, and you need that feedback.

No one's going to steal your idea. They might make something similar, but it won't be the thing that you're making. I totally think there's nothing to lose by putting it out there and just seeing what sticks. So I've got some other ideas that I can't wait to share and see what happens.

Patrick: So, are you willing to–? How about this, are you willing to share any–? Like, what are the things that are rolling around in your head right now?

Kris: Totally. Right now, and I don't know exactly how I would even do it yet, but I love these casual shooters. These are arena shooters from Team Fortress 2 up to back in the day Quake. But even now– What was it called, I can't think of the name. It even comes with a dance that everyone is doing. My kids are playing it, or they want to play it, but I won't let them.

Fortnite, there we go. I want to find a way to take that into a board game arena, an arena shooter that works in that same way. That whole idea of respawning a timeout game instead of a set up and sit for hours Warhammer 40K-esque. Something, again, taking the casual play stuff. It's something that's buzzing around my head right now, and I think it could be really good fun.

Patrick: That sounds great. I don't know if you've already seen this game, but Tiny Epic Mechs is a little bit like that, but I don't think there's any respawn. Which I think you want in those games, where it's a small shooter game where you shoot each other, but I don't think there's respawn.

I would love to see a game where it's it feels like a video game where you respawn, and then you kill five people, or you shoot five people, you get five points, and you die, then you get to respawn and just keep going. That'd be cool.

Kris: I think so, and like I say, it would work in the same way. Pick up a different character, like “That didn't work out. I'll go for the medic. Oh, that didn't work out. I'll try the tank.” And you've got 15 minutes, and you've got a little cheat sheet of what they do. I don't know, there's something there.

Right now, it's this cloud, and I need to search through it and find the game or something. I don't know. But it's something I've had buzzing around for just a few weeks, and I'm looking forward to having a crack at it.

What games inspire you?

Patrick: I love it. It's a great idea. What sort of games out there inspire you?

Kris: Loads. Digital gaming has its place, I think like what is inspiring me here, but I think at the same time the games that I played as a kid and even the [inaudible] times. My kids are because I'm trying to make sure that they stay off-screen as much as possible and that I stay off-screen as much as possible, it's driving me forward to playing and making more games.

I think there's loads of stuff out there, and like I say, being in the communities and seeing what other people are doing there is so much great stuff. I love the fact that Kickstarter is bringing back this idea of bringing back board gaming because it's in the element just means that there's just such weird and wonderful ideas.

It's not mainstream, it's not “OK. This must adhere to a lot of marketing rules.” It's like “No, here's an idea. I've made it look pretty. Let's have a go.” And I'm like, “Yeah. I'll back that. Let's see what happens.”

Patrick: I love it. It's very fun where the board game scene is indie, and there are games that work, and there are games that don't work, and there's super cool things in games that don't work, and there's maybe– Like, I love the diversity of games that we have on Kickstarter. It's a pretty underrated part of the whole industry, maybe, is how indie it is. It's pretty cool.

Kris: I love it. I'm always for– I totally get why certain games make millions, and that sort of thing. And [inaudible] and others are just like, “OK. Here we go, here's the next one.” And Gloomhaven, I totally see the marketing there, but for me, I love those ones that will probably never hit more than five figures or something like that.

But they've got a really good quirk, they've got a really good feel. You're just like, “That'll be fun. That'll be fun for a little bit. I'll put $10-20 dollars on that,” or whatever. “It'll be fun.” And that's really what board gaming, for me, is all about.

What one resource would you recommend to another indie game designer or an aspiring game designer?

Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. I love all this, so since you're getting your game published here and you've got a bunch of research, what is a resource that you'd recommend to another indie game designer or an aspiring game designer to help them?

Kris: It all depends on what you define as “Resource.” Like I say, I would certainly say for me, getting on Facebook and enjoying the community there. I always found the Facebook community, for me, was more active than perhaps the BoardGameGeek community, but still an utterly awesome resource. Especially because there's so much easy access reference there as well, to see what's come before and what links through and the mechanic ideas and things like that. I would say, just start basic.

Don't worry about incredible art when you put stuff out there. It could be stickmen. I've done the rawest of sketches out there and stuff like that, and still people, they can see through that because they can say, “This reminds me of such and such,” or “I can see how that could work.” Start small, start simple and iterate, and just keep what works.

Chuck out what doesn't, even if it hurts to throw away this idea that you thought was just going to change the world, and you realized just doesn't work. Sometimes you've just got to say, “That's as far as that one goes. Back to the drawing board.” It happens, and it's tricky sometimes when you put your heart into something, but sometimes you've just got to say, “OK. Now it's time to go down a new avenue.” But it's all learning, it's all moving forward.

Patrick: I dig all that. So, I love that. Do you have a podcast, or maybe it's a Facebook group, or maybe it's a website that will help people do that?

Kris: Yeah, I feel awful doing this to you. I'm just going to very quickly– I'm on my Facebook page. Just quickly, I just want to make sure I get the right group name. Because the one thing is that there are some– There's just so many board game groups, so I want to see which one. I think I probably use Board Game– The BGGL community site perhaps the most.

It's hard to say. It's not a huge group, but it's very– It's a private one, but it's very active. Just a standard board game group, I think. But there's tons out there, and I've yet to find a bad one. I think it's all about how you'll always get an incredible mix of people in there, but in time you've just got to– Sometimes people will be a little too honest with their feedback, maybe.

But sometimes you've got to take it on the chin and other times you can say, “Actually I don't agree with you.” And you push back, and you say your points, and people love that back and forth. It's all [inaudible].

What was the best money you ever spent as a game designer?

Patrick: Good. So, a different question. What is the best money you've spent as a game designer?

Kris: For me, I would probably say my 3D printer, I love it. It's like some kind of futuristic toy-making oven that I put the ingredients in and put the SD card in and go to bed, I wake up in the morning, and I've got a new toy. It just works.

Sometimes I end up when I've got spaghetti, as I didn't put glue on the plate or something. But I think now the great thing is that you don't need to invest a huge amount in a 3D printer, I think you can get incredibly detailed ones if you want to get the resin printers and things like that. I think that for me because I am making dexterity games, that for me has been moneywise a huge– Definitely, something I would say was an investment.

Patrick: Do you mind, which model 3D printer do you have?

Kris: I went quite fancy. I won't lie to you, I saved up, and I went for a Zortrax M200, I think it is. I think it's a Polish company, and the reliability of it is just incredible. I've always been– If ever that something has gone wrong, it's been my fault. I could certainly say with fact on that side of things that the Zortrax guys do make a very quality machine. I think, anyway.

Patrick: Awesome. I'm looking at their picture online, and I will put a link to that in the show notes just because I think a lot of people want to try 3D printing but haven't yet been able to do so. I always like to have, “Here's what this person actually uses.”

Kris: That's it, that one I've definitely used for most of my early days. I definitely think because I was trying to make so many prototypes at once that I definitely have a cheaper one. Off the top of my head, I can't remember it, but let's talk, and I'll come back with exactly what it is.

But it's considerably cheaper and the quality there has also been amazing. So if it helps people out to see another one that's got a good reference, I'll be happy to do that. Perhaps I'll find the link, and I'll send it to you after.

What does success in the board game world look like to you?

Patrick: That'd be great. So, what does success in the board game world look like to you?

Kris: No idea. But for me, I don't know if it's because of the success, but for me when I've seen– Like, having my kids enjoy things is a little easy because it's a case of we live together, and we play together all the time, so I know the kind of things that they enjoy.

But I would say that the funniest thing for me was when I got it into a box and I took it into work with me and people who I respect, other game designers and my peers, I brought it in because I was taking it to a game night after work. They were like, “Oh my God. That looks like a real game.” And it's like, “Of course. It is a real game because it's a game and it's real.”

But it was the fact that they were just like, “That looks like a real game. That looks like something off the shelf.” It's kind of like, “Oh my God. OK, thanks.” There's some of that, knowing that people think it's something, that for me, was an incredible moment. I know it sounds a bit silly, but it was like “I've made a real game.”

Overrated/Underrated

Patrick: That's a great moment. I love it. So, I like to end with a game called Overrated/Underrated. For listeners who haven't heard this before, I'm going to give the guest a word or phrase, like “Fancy coffee,” and then he can say if it's overrated or underrated and give me one sentence why. I might say, “Fancy coffee from Starbucks,” and he might say, “Underrated. Because I love caramel in my coffee and it's the best way to get it.” Something like that. Make sense?

Kris: Totally, yeah. Let's give it a go.

Patrick: All right. So, a year without conventions. Overrated or underrated?

Kris: Oh, my God. Which is the bad one? Underrated because I love conventions, and I want them to come back when it is safe to do so.

Patrick: Yeah, I'm definitely missing the conventions myself. I totally get that. How about this, nonmeat meats? Like nonmeat burgers, right? You can get fake meat burgers and sausages and stuff like that. Overrated or underrated?

Kris: I think underrated because I love animals, but I also love meat, so the sooner they can get nonmeat products that taste like meat, the happier I will be.

Patrick: I love that. “I love animals and I love meat,” that was a great answer.

Kris: I just think, let's get some nonmeat meat out there that tastes like meat.

Patrick: Love it. How about this, board games based off of movies. Overrated or underrated?

Kris: Anything that gives you a feeling of– Sorry. I'll go underrated because I love the feeling that you get, that you could step into the shoes of something that you love. When they can give me a Die Hard experience on a board game, I will pay whatever it takes.

Patrick: That makes a lot of sense. Then lastly, how about the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, the MCU? That's like all of the– Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America, all of those movies. What do you think of the series of them, overrated or underrated?

Kris: Now I'll go overrated because I think I'm just done with it all. There's nothing exciting as it is, it's just not new to me anymore. We've seen it all, I think, a little bit for a while. Maybe it's become overrated.

Wrap Up

Patrick: Got it perfect. Kris, thank you so much for being on the show.

Kris: It's been an absolute pleasure. It's been lovely to speak to you.

Patrick: Where can people find you and your games online?

Kris: We'll make sure that everything is linked through from CatapultKingdoms.com and that sort of thing. So when we get post-campaign and stuff like that, all of our social media links through there. You can certainly see that through on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram if you want to find us there too. But by all means, use the website. It's got a form on there.

If anyone wants to find me on Facebook or Instagram or anything like that, personally, if you've got any things you'd like to know about game design. I'm always happy to chat and always happy to share.

Patrick: Great. There will be late backing available, I'm sure, from CatapultKingdoms.com and also probably a button on the Kickstarter page, so there will be late backing available if you want to take a look at that when this episode comes out. Listeners, if you liked this podcast, please give us a review on iTunes. If you leave a review, Kris will promise not to fire a boulder at your house.

If you want to boulder-proof your house, the best way to do that is to leave a review on this podcast. I just want to say, listeners, I am actually in talks with a publisher on selling one of my games Kintsugi to them, or maybe “Licensing” is the right word. If you want to follow along on how I'm talking with this publisher about licensing Kintsugi, all of that is going to be up on my Patreon.

If you want to follow along, I have extra stuff there. You can visit the site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com, you can follow me on Twitter and BoardGameGeek. I'm @BFTrick on both platforms. Until next time everyone, happy designing. Bye-bye.

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