Len Kendall

#92 – Len Kendall

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 Len Kendall, who works for a large video game company that you definitely know. He designed Western Tropic, which combines poker and deck building and area control and will be available on Kickstarter when this episode airs, and Devil's Advocate, which is a party game that launched a few years ago on Kickstarter. Len, welcome to the show.

Len Kendall: Thank you very much, Patrick.

Introduction

Patrick: I like to start with a lightning round, to introduce you to the audience. This make sense?

Len: Yeah, it does. Let's do it.

Patrick: All right. What is your favorite traditional card game, except poker?

Len: My favorite card game would be one called Durak, which is most well known in Russia and Ukraine. It's the first card game I learned to play with my grandma who is from there, and it's trick– Reverse trick-taking, where you're basically trying to get rid of all of your cards before the end of the game.

Patrick: Very cool. I've never heard of it, but it uses a standard 52 card deck?

Len: It does. You ditch a few of the lower ones, so it's six through tens.

Patrick: Very cool, I'll have to check it out. What is your favorite Western movie?

Len: I like True Grit. There's the classic version and then the modern one, and I think it's really funny where you have this young woman/girl who is basically the boss and telling all these gruff old men what to do, and kicking ass and taking names. It's just very– It puts a character that doesn't belong in a place that you don't normally see them, so I always enjoyed that.

Patrick: Awesome. What is a game you play with someone every single time at a convention?

Len: I can't help myself, but I like Patchwork. I grew up playing Tetris, and because that game uses shapes and combining shapes and putting them together, I love the strategy of that. I always find that to be the game I play, especially if I'm looking for a two-person game.

Patrick: I think I would love Patchwork. I've yet to play it, so it is on my to-do list because it's been mentioned in a million different videos and podcasts and books.

Len: The theme is very unappealing, and I totally get that, and that's why I didn't play it. But once I did, the mechanics, I just fell in love with. Just get over the theme and play it and I think you'll enjoy it too.

Patrick: I don't know if I've shared this story on the podcast before, but I refused to play Love Letter for six months, and then I played it, and I'm like “This is a great game!” But I think I just assumed it was like a love-letter writing competition or something, which didn't sound great. Sometimes a theme can throw you off, but then sometimes the gameplay is excellent underneath that.

Len: Yeah, exactly. I haven't played Love Letter, so we'll trade games and report back.

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

Patrick: There we go. OK, so first real question. How did you get into board games and board game design?

Len: Everyone obviously knows about Cards Against Humanity, and it's a big worldwide sensation, but not many people know that when it launched originally on Kickstarter in 2011, it only raised $15,000 dollars and from less than 1,000 people. I'm happy to say I was one of those people, I lived in Chicago at the time, and I knew the guys who started that game, so I backed them. I went to their launch party, got to play with them, and that was quite a trip to see the sick and hilarious minds of the ones who wrote that game. But I think to answer your question, like many people, I came to the brilliant conclusion that “I can create a party game with cards, too. 

That seems easy and fun.” So I did, and I'm one of many people who has done that with Devil's Advocate. I launched Devil's Advocate five years ago, and it was really about trying to guess how your friends would feel about certain topics and try to change their opinion on those topics, hence the name. I ended up raising $30,000 dollars on Kickstarter. I was very happy with it, but I just did that initial run and ended it there, so I didn't have the long term success of a Cards Against Humanity. But it did introduce me to the very basic elements of game design, and it's one of those games that I don't consider to be a game. I consider it to be a conversation starter at a party, so I'm half proud of it. But it taught me a lot, so I'm glad I did it.

Patrick: Yeah. It's interesting, and I still don't know where to put Cards Against Humanity. Yeah it's a game, but it also sometimes feels a little bit more like an activity like Telestrations, or–

Len: Exactly.

Tell Me About Western Tropic

Patrick: So, let's talk about your new game. Western Tropic is– I'll go back up to the description here. It combines poker with deck building, area control, and some other game elements. Why did you change from party games to this other type of game?

Len: I really wanted to create a game which I actually call a game, and I started studying board game mechanics and then looking at the different types of games I've played in the past, and I thought about what card game or board game or otherwise have I spent the most time playing, and that ended up being poker. However, I always found that even though I wanted to play poker a lot, it was hard to play it because, A) money is involved which really turns off a lot of people, and B) it's just something that requires a lot of manipulation and for lack of a better term, lying. I wanted it to be a bit more accessible. 

So I decided to use the language of poker with the game, but create a whole new game out of it. For people who know poker, and that's a very large majority of people who understand the basics of poker, I figured I could save a little bit of time in teaching people how to play my game if they already knew the basics of poker. But then I expanded upon it with things like deck building and area control and trick-taking and turned it into something that I think feels more like a tabletop game versus what poker is.

Patrick: Did you–? I've heard this a couple times in the game design world where if you try to introduce too much craziness at once, people won't get it. But if you take what someone knows and then change one little thing about it, people can grasp that. Like, if people are at step 10 and you have a game that's 11, they'll get it. But if they're at step 10, you have a game that's step 20, and they won't get it. It seems like building on a popular game like poker might solve a lot of those problems. “It's like poker, except you do this and this,” sounds like a really easy way to teach someone a game. Has that been easy to teach, and do people grok it right away?

Len: I think that the concept makes a lot of sense. I think with video games you'll see that a lot, where it evolves from one basic thing people know to another. In this particular case, I look at a game like Dominion or other deck builders, and when I first started playing those types of games, I found it to be pretty confusing. I enjoyed them once I understood them, but the overall concept is hard to get if you've never played that type of game. 

What I've tried to do is take something that people know, which is poker, introduce deck building elements into it to act as a bridge to get them to a game like Dominion. It's not going to be as advanced, not even close as advanced or varied as that type of game. But I do think it's going to introduce people to the genre, and that's a big goal for me is getting people to play those types of variable card games.

What Design Challenges Did You Run Into?

Patrick: Yeah. No, I totally hear you on that. So did you have any–? It sounds like we've talked about how people grok it immediately, but did you have any design challenges with the game? Was there something that didn't work and took you a while to figure out?

Len: Yeah. My biggest challenge with this game was I fell in love with the theme before I had the game complete. The current version of Western Tropic is the 44th version that I've designed. The original one started off as a roll and move and attack, and I landed on the poker tweak about halfway through. But I was watching the show West World quite a bit, and I fell in love with that theme, especially because it took place in a modern-day and you had people in that show that didn't look like the people you normally see in a Western show. People of all looks and backgrounds, and I thought that was cool. 

At the same time, I also really like tiki culture. Tiki bars, tiki drinks, all that. So those two interesting themes were merged together, and that's where I landed on this theme of Western Tropic, which basically is this island that a crazy billionaire has taken over and rebuilt into a Wild West town. [Inaudible], and so it's a pretty loose story, but it's one that I have a lot of fun with in terms of the art. But that was my challenge, I couldn't let go of this theme, and so I had to keep changing my game until I landed on one that I had fun playing. Because the original versions of this game were not fun to me, I just liked the theme. Now I finally have a theme that I like and a game that I enjoy playing.

Thoughts on Theme-First Game Design

Patrick: Would you say you are a theme-first type of designer or is it just this one time?

Len: I think I am. I'm a marketing and branding guy, so I understand that there are going to be 100 people who sell the exact same thing as you and sometimes packaging matters a lot. I definitely buy games because they are pretty, and then I'll never play them again. So I think there's a lot of people like me now. 

Obviously, I want my game to be very fun, and I want people to play it, and I think that they will. But I'm definitely a theme first person because I think people play games to experience a different world and imagine a little bit. Even if a game mechanic is fun, you do have to have that look and feel that that resonates and stands out.

Patrick: I'm curious if you found a mechanism that was fun, but didn't work for the theme? Where the game works on a game level, but didn't work with the theme. Or was it just the mechanisms you were combining didn't work at all?

Len: Yeah. I think, especially in early versions of the game, it was very heavy on attacking people. In fact, it was almost like I was trying to create a battle royale style game with cards where there was only one person left. I think that the theme, hopefully for me, is meant to be a game of inclusivity and people were working together and playing together and having fun together. 

I think the more games I played that were one person takes all, the less fun I've had. Even though I like the idea of doing a battle royale in a board game setting, it just didn't work. So I'm much happier now that the game is more about earning as many points as you can and doing the best possible job you can to win the game. It's much like Catan and others if you play three games you might not win them all, but you're still racking up points, and you're feeling good about that progress.

Patrick: Yeah, and you're feeling good about the little town you've built and all the roads you connected.

Len: Exactly.

What’s Your Favorite Game That You’ve Designed?

Patrick: Changing gears a little bit, you've designed a couple games, and I'm sure you've designed games that weren't launched on Kickstarter, what is the favorite game you designed?

Len: My favorite game that I've designed to this day is one that five-year-old Len designed called Army Men Marble Wars. Basically, that was me getting into game design. What I did was I would play with a friend, we would sit across from each other on the floor, on the carpet, and we would set up little green army men in a row. 

Then we would use Legos and other types of construction toys to build catapults and other types of weapons that basically launched marbles, and so we would keep launching marbles one at a time as a tactical strategy turn-based game until we had knocked over all of the other person's army men. It was a little bit of strategy, it was a little bit of building your own tools, and a little bit of reflexes and dexterity. I didn't know it at the time, but I guess I was starting my game design journey back then.

Patrick: You've been a lifelong game designer?

Len: Indeed.

Patrick: That's very cool. It's funny, and I'm following someone right now who has a game about catapults and knocking down– You have your little castles, and I think you have your little guards that are in your castles, and as soon as you knock out all the guards I think you win. But it's funny, that's not that different than the game that you designed when you were five. So, pretty cool.

Len: Yeah. I think my favorite video game version of that idea is Worms, where you're just going back and forth with all these weapons. It's clever and simple. I love that.

What Types of Games Do You Like to Design?

Patrick: I was never any good at that game. But yes, lots of fun. Speaking of games that we like or don't like, what type of games do you like to design? Like, what is something that interests you?

Len: My favorite board game is one that doesn't need a board. I like things that are smaller in nature, in terms of you could fit in your pocket, or you can throw it in your backpack. I think I gravitate mostly towards designing card games just because that's the natural alternative to having a board and pieces and rolling dice and all that. 

I think I do spend a lot of time thinking about that constraint and trying to apply that idea of boardless games in other formats, and I haven't quite nailed that down yet. I think for the foreseeable future I'm focusing on cards, but that is a self– Or, a constraint that I've given myself that I want to stick to through my board game design career.

Patrick: I love that. I'm a huge fan of Button Shy's Wallet Games. I'm working on a game for The Game Crafter mint tin challenge because I love small, tiny games. Now, I have a question for you. I've been wondering if it's possible to make– Have you played the game Palm Island, by any chance?

Len: I have not, no.

Patrick: It's a cool solo game where you're trying to get as many points as possible, but what's cool about it is it's a card game that literally fits in one hand and the other hand helps move around the cards. The way you want to hold cards is in a slightly weird way, but you literally don't need to put the cards down. 

All the cards are in your hand, and they're just fanned out in this special format, and you can move them or rotate them or turn them around and do all this stuff. I love that. I want to do that, and I want to have a game where you– I don't want to say “You don't have a board,” but you don't have anything. I want to make a game that you can play while standing in line. So, I don't know how that works.

Len: Yeah. I think that's so great. I think back to a bygone era when people would take cards on an airplane and play solitaire in front of their seat or their tray. I think that's cool to have to come up with a fun game with little to work with. Like, if you put a lot of constraints on yourself that makes things hard. 

But I think that is interesting, and then I think from a cost perspective or getting your game out to a lot of people perspective, if you can produce a small game, and it costs you $5 dollars a unit to produce, and you can sell it for $10 that means more people are enjoying your game versus something that cost $100 or $150 and not as many people will enjoy. So I think that if you're willing to think about building small games, you will have a larger audience.

Any New Ideas or Mechanisms for Future Games or Expansions?

Patrick: Very cool. So, is there something–? Are there some fun ideas or mechanisms you're looking into for a future game, or for expansions, or anything like that?

Len: I have a technology that I'm looking at that I think could turn into an interesting mechanism. For about two years now I've been investigating this stuff called thermal ink, and basically, what that is it's ink that changes color when it's at different temperature. For example, if you imagine a card and you put your finger on it, and you hold it for a few seconds, the color on the card starts to change and might reveal a message underneath or it might change to mean something completely different. 

I haven't quite cracked “What is the game mechanic that could benefit from this?” But I think it's super cool. I think that the challenge is it wouldn't work if you're playing outside in the cold, so there are all these variables that would make it a little tricky. But I think it's a unique idea and I would love to apply it somehow, even if it's for marketing materials or something like that. I haven't personally seen it used yet, so perhaps I'll be the first to try that out.

Patrick: I could totally see that in– The first thing that pops into my mind is an escape room game. I think something like that where there's literally– In escape room games there's lots of hidden information, and I love the idea of a card that looks like there's nothing on it and you maybe throw it away in the box for someone and someone else picks it up and they hold it for a couple of seconds, and then extra things appear on the card. That sounds amazing.

Len: Yeah, I like that. If there's information you don't want anyone else to see, you put your fingers on it, and you can see it, but nobody else can, or everyone else has to play wearing gloves until they are allowed to take their gloves off and they can reveal what's on the card. Something like that.

Patrick: But you brought up a really interesting points that you would either have to put on the box, “Must play in a room that's 70 degrees,” which gives away some information. Or you have to hope that– I don't know, there would have to be lots of testing of different thermal inks to make sure that–

Len: Yeah, I got samples of it and tried it in different climates.

Patrick: What?

Len: Like if it's a really hot day and the sun's beating on it, it messes it up. I think that's part of the reason I haven't pursued this is it's just too variable in terms of how it reacts to heat. But it's getting better and better every year, so I would definitely investigate it. It's pretty cool to see how it works.

Patrick: Is that something you can print at home? Was it just a different printer cartridge, or do you have to send out for that type of thing?

Len: They do have ones you can use with a printer, but honestly the better quality stuff you need to send out.

Patrick: That is very cool. Normally people talk about “I want to do work replacement, a mechanism,” but it's cool that you're looking at a technology that you want to use.

Len: Yeah, I figure I want to share stuff with people that they may not have heard about. I'm thinking thermal ink is one of those things.

Is There A Game That You Wish You Could Change?

Patrick: Is there a game out there that you wish you could change? Maybe you'd add something to it or take something away from it?

Len: This is not considered a hardcore tabletop game, but in line with my game being about poker, I always thought it would be fun to have Scrabble, but with betting. You would apply money, so if you're using tiles that have a higher points like a Q has 10 points, maybe that's 10 cents. 

I think you can basically play this game with money essentially, but I think it'd be pretty fun to have competitive Scrabble tournaments where money was actually at stake. It would definitely change the game. I think that the challenge is that people constantly bicker about what is or is not a word, so there's not hard and steadfast rules and you definitely want that when money is involved. But yeah, that's my quick brainstorm for a modification to a game.

Patrick: I can imagine those people fighting over something is a word or not getting old, like two times as intense.

Len: Absolutely.

Are There Any Games That Inspire Your Creativity?

Patrick: So are there any games out there that inspire you, inspire you to make a new game or something like that?

Len: Yeah, I recently have been inspired by a game called Pixel Tactics. It's back to our conversation about small games, it's made by Level 99 and much like my game Western Tropic it uses a grid-like format, and I think it's clever. Because again it uses a small amount of real estate on a card to give you a lot of information. There's three or four different pieces of information on each card, and you have to look at different pieces of information depending on what turn it is. 

So again, I think that's my inspiration as I'm going into this realm of card games and trying to fit as much information as I can on my own game components. That's a great one. Another one I want to quickly mention is Hero Realms. I know a lot of people know Star Realms, but Hero Realms to me is a great deck builder that takes all the fun of Dominion but is very compact and tight and simple to learn. I think that's a great one for people to try out if they haven't played a lot of deck-building games.

Patrick: I love it. I'm just looking that up, and I don't think I've played Hero Realms at all.

Len: I've given you a nice Amazon wish list to fill out here.

Patrick: There's never enough time to play all these awesome games.

Len: I know.

What Research Do You Do Before Starting a New Game?

Patrick: Cool. So, what research do you do before you start making a new game? Do you look at and read books? Do you watch movies? What do you do before you make a game?

Len: My standard process is usually buying a lot of books and then putting them on my shelf and then never reading them, so that's step one. Step two is I switch to more audio-based learning, and I like podcasts including yours of course, and audiobooks as well. My go-to approach is to take a walk, so I save all of my– I hoard all of my podcasts during the week. I don't listen to them at work or driving, so I listen to them on one or two hour-long walks, and I take my notebook with me. 

I'll listen to podcasts, and I'll learn about different topics, if I think of something that is valuable that I want to think through later, I'll pull out my notebook and I'll write it down. But just the act of walking is really important for me, and I know other people talk about this quite a bit, to have that mental space of not being distracted. Podcast prompts my brain to start working, the exercise and the walking continues that process, and then I usually come back with lots of great ideas and then I jump on my computer and start cranking them out. 

Just one other resource that I highly recommend would be watching videos from GDC, which is the Game Developers Conference. They talk about both tabletop board games and then also video game, but I think a lot of the lessons they teach are applicable. Those are like college lecture style videos that are great ways to absorb a lot of great information without reading if you're not into that like me.

Patrick: You're totally skipping ahead here to the “What one resource would you recommend?” But I like it. Let me go back to the walking and podcasting thing because I do sometimes do that, but not often. I talked with someone recently, I don't know if that episode aired, but I talked to someone recently about basically scheduling unconstructive time, or almost like scheduling unscheduled time if that makes sense. I think scheduling unstructured, and I think that's what I said. I'm wondering if that's what your walks are, it's basically like this is literally– Like you're basically– Are you basically scheduling brainstorming time?

Len: Yeah. I believe that was in the last episode of yours that I listened to, so I'm being a good listener. I think for me it it's become a habit for me basically after work. I wouldn't say necessarily schedule it, but for me, it acts as the line in the day. I go to work, I do my thing, I'm in that headspace, and then I go on a walk, and that separates my workday from my personal day and my personal projects day. It puts me in a new environment, and I think even when you get home, you're still connected to work sometimes because you've got your email and you've got things that you have to do in terms of chores, so this forces that division in the day. 

I walk outside for an hour almost every single day if possible. And then if I can't, I will try to do other exercise. But it's a great thing for people to get in the habit of, and if you are working on creative projects, I think it's one of the very few things you can do that forces you away from technology. The other one for me is riding my motorcycle. You literally cannot be on a computer or on your phone if you want to stay alive. So, although I don't do as much thinking it does turn my brain off for a little bit of time, and I think that's important to spur creativity whether it's in that moment or later in the day.

Patrick: I love that answer. I just had a follow up on the walking thing. Come on, thought. Where did you go, thought? Anyway–

Len: You should take a walk. It'll come up.

Taking Inspiration From Someone Without Taking Their Idea

Patrick: Yeah, I'm sure if we just– If I got for a walk, yeah. I absolutely love that. Oh, here's what it was. So sometimes I get inspired, and I have this similar thing where sometimes I go for walks, and people get inspired and go, “Wow, it's a cool idea. I want to do this.” I guess a question I've recently been struggling with is let's say someone shares a cool idea in a podcast and you want to use that, but you don't want to copy them. 

How do you do–? Because, how about this. You literally know you're inspired from them because you stopped your walk to write down notes, and I've done this. Like, “I want to do this thing but slightly different.” How do you get inspired by someone without ripping off their idea?

Len: Yeah, that's a real thing. I struggle with it too. I think in situations where I have felt like that has happened and have then gone back and told myself, “I'm going to only come up with original ideas, and I'm not going to use any reference materials or listen to other people. That'll be the way to go.” Even when I've gone that route, hours later or days later I'll find out that whatever I came up with in my head someone's already thought of. So pretty much every idea has been thought of already, and it's really about telling the story in a different way and adding to it, remixing it. 

I'm not somebody who likes just straight up taking ideas, and I think there's a lot of people online who they steal content and make a life out of “Curation.” I don't believe in that. But I do think that most artists are basically just connecting the dots of different ideas from different people and showcasing in a new way, so I think if you're doing that and if you're packaging something in a completely new way or adding on to something that someone else has created, I think you should be OK with that and feel good about it.

Patrick: Cool. I like that, and I definitely generally agree that every idea has been thought of at some point. It's just such a blurry ground.

Len: Yeah, this is the reason you can't patent a game mechanic or a game idea, you can only rebuild it. I guess that stinks for people who come up with something original, and it gets copied over and over, but yeah, that is the world we live in. Unfortunately, you have to stand out through, again, the storytelling and the community that you build or that one unique element that makes you a little bit different than the 100 other people who have a similar idea.

What's a (Video) Resource You'd Recommend?

Patrick: Love it. OK, so we've answered, “What one resource would you recommend?” And you mentioned GDC videos. Just as a starting place, is there one video that you'd recommend as a really good intro to this type of content?

Len: I think honestly, for me, he's got a ton of content but Geoff Englestein is a great resource. He's got some great videos from GDC, just the basic introductory mechanics of game design. He has a lot of different topics, but he's got a podcast, and he has books, but I've watched a lot of his stuff. 

The other genre of videos that would help people from a GDC perspective, especially if you're into card games, would be to look up information about Hearthstone. Hearthstone is a digital card game riffing off of magic, but I think a lot of the lessons that can be learned from Hearthstone apply to physical games as well. So, that's a good area to investigate.

What's the Best Money You've Spent?

Patrick: Very cool. Then the following– The question that always comes after that is, what is the best money that you've spent as a game designer?

Len: You will hear this from many other people, but it's definitely a cutting mat. I spent a lot of time using scissors and carefully trying to cut out cards and do all that. But when you get one of these self-healing cutting mats, and then you can start to use razors to make straight lines, A) it's very therapeutic, much like walking. And B) I think you produce a nice prototype with it, and faster. So it's like $30 or $40 dollars on Amazon and will save literally hundreds of hours if you're making lots of prototypes. So, good money spent there.

Patrick: Several other people have recommended card cutters or the guillotine arm cutting thing, but I don't think anyone has mentioned the mat before. Does the mat–? Because you have to use an Exacto blade then, right?

Len: Yeah, I'm basically using a box cutter type blade and a ruler. So I'll place the ruler against the card, and then the razor goes against the ruler for a straight line. I've seen the guillotine as well, and I think that can be slower because you have to take the paper, feed it in, cut it. For me, this is a better system. 

But the invention that I want to exist that doesn't yet is basically a pen that has ink in it that burns away after a few seconds, so you can draw a shape around a card and then after it's exposed to air for a minute, it would dissolve, and that would come out. It doesn't exist, and I want it to exist. I'm not sure if it can technically exist, but there is an invention that I would love for someone to [inaudible] if they're listening, and do something with that.

Patrick: That is a super cool idea. Because that would save all of us so much time, to circle our cards and they all fall out.

Len: Exactly. In theory, it's a great idea.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick: Very cool. Then my last real question is, what does success in the board game world look like to you?

Len: Not to toot my own horn, but I do think I've achieved it as an indie designer who does this on the side, but when I get random messages from friends or people that I don't know years later after I've launched games like Devil's Advocate, saying “We're playing this.” They took a photo of them playing it, and they sent it to me, that's a huge win. I think that whenever you produce something, after a bunch of time you forget about it and it's not as important to you. 

But when somebody reminds you that you made something and you put it into the world, and they're still enjoying it, that's cool. That's meaningful to me. So with this upcoming game, I never go into this endeavor looking to make a lot of money. Of course, I want to break even. But for me if I can get several hundred people to enjoy something that I've made, that'll make me very happy, so that's leaving my mark on the world in a small way.

Patrick: I love that. I like that you said you've already hit it. People so often, you achieve a goal, and then you add a new goal that's farther in the distance, and you never feel like you made it. It's nice that you feel that way, that's good.

Len: Yeah, it's a scalable goal. Maybe with Devil's Advocate, I get one or two of those messages years later, and maybe with Western Tropic, it's going to be hundreds or thousands. I think it's a goal that you can always increase and improve on.

Overrated / Underrated

Patrick: Very cool. I want to end with Overrated/Underrated, which I think you've heard of before.

Len: Yes.

Patrick: Excellent. So let's– You know what? Normally I explain it just in case someone has never heard of this game before. But listeners, if you've never heard of this game before you're just going to have to figure out how this game works. Let's go with trick-taking games, are they overrated or underrated?

Len: I think that they are overrated. I don't love the idea that only one person wins in each round. We talked a little bit about this earlier, but I think it's cool when everybody can win something. I understand that there's going to ultimately be one winner, but if everyone's getting points or earning something each round, I think that's a lot more satisfying versus one winner takes all.

Patrick: Interesting. I like that. That's got my brain spinning on “Who could win with a trump card, or with a trump suit, and who can win with a non-trump suit.” Something like that would be super interesting. Cool, let's go with Deadwood the TV show. Overrated or underrated?

Len: You would think I would love this show because of the Western theme, but I watched one episode, and I just quit. I know it's a great show, everyone says it's a great show, I'm going to say it's overrated only because I couldn't stick with it. I'm going to come back to it, I swear, and watch it again someday. But right now it's in the overrated pile.

Patrick: And you like West World?

Len: Yeah, love it.

Patrick: OK, interesting. I'm just going to go with variable player powers, overrated or underrated?

Len: I think it's underrated when done well, which is very rare. I think it's incredibly difficult to have variable player powers. I thought about doing that for Western Tropic, but I don't think I'm skilled enough as a game designer to get that done. I think about video games like fighting games, for example, where you have 30, 40, 50 different players with different moves and how they balance all those characters. It's incredible, and it's an incredible feat. I think it's super underrated, I don't think most game players appreciate the work that goes into variable player powers, and I'd love to be somebody who can design that someday, but I'm not there yet.

Patrick: Is it just a balance issue? Is it just that, “This one's a little bit too strong against this one, and if this one matches up against this one they're probably gonna win.” Is it balance, or is it–? How else can it be? Because you've mentioned “If it's done well,” can be done poorly in other ways?

Len: I think it ultimately comes down to balance. When you have a game, and I've played those games where one character is particularly strong, and everybody who's played that game now knows that you feel like the game's ruined and whoever gets that player is who is going to win. It's not like a video game where you can patch it, you can release new versions later, but I think that is definitely the issue. It's the balance part, and I do think nailing that is super underrated.

Patrick: Very cool. Last one. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which is a movie. Is that overrated or underrated?

Len: Underrated. A lot of people know Guy Ritchie's movies like Snatch and others, but I think this is a very quotable movie. It's the movie that made me start watching all movies with subtitles because I couldn't understand all the slang and the British accents at the time. So it's fantastic, great dialogue, very funny. I also like that Jason Statham is in it and he does a good job representing sexy bald guys, so he's representing all of us, and I appreciate it.

Wrap Up

Patrick: Very cool. Len, thank you so much for being on the show.

Len: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Patrick: Where can people find you online?

Len: I am @lenkendall pretty much on all social platforms like Twitter and Instagram, and my game's website is WesternTropic.com.

Patrick: It should be live on Kickstarter when this episode airs, so you can also find it on Kickstarter. Listeners, if you liked this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes. If you leave your review, Len said he would tell you whether to hit or stay in any future game of blackjack, so if you need future blackjack advice, he's the guy to talk to. You can visit the site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com, and you can follow me on Twitter, I'm @BFTrick. Until next time everyone, happy designing. Bye-bye.

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