BoardGameGuru Interview : Bevan Clatworthy (Ghostel; Tinkerbot Games)
Interview by Angus Abranson
For our first BoardGameGuru interview I contacted Bevan Clatworthy, an old friend and gaming buddy whose first boardgame, ‘Ghostel’, is currently on Kickstarter through Tinkerbot Games.
Bevan Clatworthy, Tinkerbot Games and designer of 'Ghostel'
Spending his early life bouncing around Europe as a member of the Army Brat Brigade his love affair with gaming blossomed when he returned to his native Cornwall and further cemented itself when he moved to Cardiff with a heady mix of new friends, funds and no bedtime.
Natural progression led Bevan to turn his hand and imagination to designing his own games and following success in the UK Games EXPO Redesign Competition he teamed up with Gino and Tony to form Tinkerbot Games. Ghostel, both Bevan and Tinkerbots first game, is currently on Kickstarter until Thursday 25th February 2016 and is well worth checking out.
1) When did you first become interested in card and board games?
I think I first became interested in 'proper' board gaming when I was about 12 or 13, when I got copies of HeroQuest, Space Crusade and the AD&D board game. I loved how different these games were to the usual games of Monopoly, and these led me into the more collectible games like Magic and Games Workshop miniatures.
2) What where your favourite games when you started, and what are your favourite now?
I was always a big fan on wargaming and collectible card games, but when I encountered Arkham Horror, well that was the end of that! The concept of constantly needing to keep up with new models or new cards was replaced by the wonderful 'it's all in one box' with the occasional expansion to pick up later down the line. Plus the barrier to play was removed, as I could find board and card games that suited everyone in my playgroup. Now my favourites are worker placement games like Lords of Waterdeep and Blood Rage, and the clever dice games like Elder Sign and Ninja Dice.
3) Do you feel your taste in games has changed since you began designing games?
I reckon my taste hasn't changed a great deal, as they're pretty varied! I'm happy to play anything (that's the designer in me trying to learn as much as possible) and it's rare I find a game I can't see something I enjoy, either in the theme or mechanics.
4) Different designers have various methods of designing their games. Some start with a theme, others with a mechanic. What is your process like?
I'm definitely a thematic designer at heart, but I'm tending to find these days I'll have an idea for a mechanic and a theme will present itself as it mulls around my brain. Once the two are married up, the theme definitely informs all the ancillary mechanics that turn it from an exercise to a game.
5) What is your favourite part about designing games?
I think it's the buzz you get when several playtesters have sat down to your fourth or fifth iteration of a game you've been working on, and everyone is engaged by what you've designed. When the players are showing true enjoyment of your game, that's what I really love about designing.
6) What is the most difficult part in the design process?
For me, it's getting up the courage to present that first prototype. It's invariably a mess with tons of head scratching and sighing from bored and frustrated play testers. It's necessary but it takes me quite a bit to subject myself to it.
Ghostel by Tinkerbot Games (2016)
7) Now I’ve been lucky enough to playtest Ghostel quite a bit over the last few years. How would you describe the game in a paragraph to those who have not heard of it?
Ghostel is a dice rolling worker placement game for 2-4 players that plays in roughly 45-60 minutes. You play as ghosts scaring visitors away from a hotel that used to be YOUR haunted house! Are you the scariest ghost of the night?
8) How did the idea behind Ghostel develop?
It was after an evening playing a game called Pirates of Nassau. I loved how this game rook the roll'n'move mechanic and made it work as you used dice to navigate straits. It was this idea of dropping off dice that was noodling around my brain when I was on a drive back from Cardiff. It was Halloween and after driving past the umpteenth window display of monsters and vampires the idea of ghosts using their dice to 'scare people' just materialised. Once I got home I quickly knocked up a basic prototype, and all the little extra bits like the phobias and Spookie favours just grew organically. I love that kind of design, where the theme just gives extra little nuggets that tie the whole concept together.
Ghostel by Tinkerbot Games (2016)
9) You’re using Kickstarter to raise the money for the publication of Ghostel. The campaign is currently running as we conduct this interview but how have you found the experience so far?
Tiring! It's been very exciting to get all the comments from backers, plus keeping up a presence on the internet through social media and all the wonderful people making content for the hobby gaming industry. It's also been very nerve-wracking, especially watching the money counter tick up at varying paces during the campaign.
(Angus : You can find the Ghostel Kickstarter here!)
10) What are the biggest dangers in running a Kickstarter project and how do you plan to combat these?
The biggest so far has been the budget. It's so easy to put something up there without fully pricing everything up, only to find out you're way over budget and can't fulfil everything you've promised the backers.
The other is keeping up engagement. If a Kickstarter is put up and left to run alone, it'll die on the vine as pledgers just don't feel connected or confident the project creators are even there. Keeping up good content and listening to our pledgers has been key to our initial success.
11) Ghostel is being published by Tinkerbot Games. How did you meet the other guys behind Tinkerbot and where did the idea to form the company and publish yourselves come from?
We (myself, Gino and Tony) have known each other for years, but it was only after we were all selected as finalists for the UK Games EXPO redesign competition in 2014 that we thought 'maybe we can work together in this'. We had plenty of ideas to go with, and the success we had in the competition gave us the confidence to think seriously about taking the next step and becoming a company.
We then assessed everything we had, and Ghostel came top of the list. This left us with two options, find a publisher or give it a go on our own. Now, we love a challenge, and Kickstarter presented a great opportunity to learn about the hobby industry from the inside, plus we would have more control over the content and timelines for getting the game produced. It sounded like just what we were looking for.
12) What other games do Tinkerbot have planned post-Ghostel?
At the moment it's all about Ghostel, however we do have some plans for a series of micro-games that could be put together as a compilation.
13) Most designers have a few ideas, or fleshed out designs, waiting in the wings. What do you think we may see from you as your next project?
We have a couple of others at later stages of development, including a dragon farming deck building game, and a dice drafting game about moving goats up and down rock mesas. The decision will be which to look at first!
14) You’ve attended a few playtest and ‘Unpub’ events here in the UK. How important do you feel these events are for designers (both published and unpublished ones)?
These are incredibly important, and not just for the opportunity to play test your games. You get the chance to talk to fellow designers and to publishers and just soak up the accumulated knowledge these people have. It gets you noticed, you become a face in the industry and you get to build relationships in an industry that is close knit and welcoming.
15) What are your tips for budding game designers? Anything to pay particular attention or to try and avoid?
Play test like crazy, and don't be afraid of change as you may find your earlier designs aren't the best.
That said, always remember the original vision for a design and be discerning of the feedback you receive; if it means completely compromising what you intended with a design, you may end up with something you don't actually like or wouldn't play yourself. Extracting and interpreting the best information from your play testing is a vital skill.
Bevan as one of the characters from 'Ghostel'
16) You’ve been to Spiel in Essen as an attendee in the past. How did you find the experience? How important do you feel it was to attend the show as a budding designer? Will we be seeing Tinkerbot Games there in the future?
Essen was amazing! To see the wealth of designs out there, I was like the kid in the proverbial candy store, bouncing from demos to shopping and even some of the peripheral things like cosplay items and comics. It was under your advice Angus that I experienced these larger shows as a member of public first, as I now know that working at such events is an entirely different experience, one that doesn't lend itself to just being able to wander off and enjoy all the amazing games.
For a designer, I think you should definitely experience something like Essen as soon as possible. Not only will it act as an inspiration to keep at those long nights of cutting up prototypes and reading through game reports for updates, it acts as a cracking barometer of what is in vogue in terms of the types of games that are popular. This can help inform which direction or which design you want to focus on if your plan is to get published. It's also a brilliant opportunity to meet these publishers face to face and show your wares.
As for Tinkerbot Games being there one year who knows?! That would be amazing, even if it was part of a joint stall or something, we'll just have to see how we do with Ghostel and take it from there.
17) Do you have a favourite designer? What attracts you to their games and do you have a particular title which is your 'standout game' by them?
My favourite designer would have to be Antoine Bauza, although it's close! I just love the variety in his games and the way they always evoke the theme through the strong mechanics. My favourite of his designs would be Takenoko, those gorgeous bamboo pieces and the little panda just make the simple mechanics pop!
18) What new board or card game, that's due for release this year, are you most looking forward to and why?
My most looked forward to would be Scythe from Jamey Stegmaier. It got a lot of buzz on Kickstarter, with it's amazing looking artwork but it looks like a solid game is there to back it all up. Plus it has giant mecha, which is like an auto-back for me.
19) What are your current Top 10 Games?
This was a tough list to put together, and the order isn't really how I would rate these games as they have a lot of variety in there. Let's just say these are my ten favourite games.
2) Rhino Hero
3) Blood Rage
5) Zombicide (any edition)
6) Five Tribes
7) Camel Up