Richard Garfield Talks About Cooperative King of Tokyo, Bunny Kingdom’s Release, and Reflections on Solforge and Netrunner
Richard Garfield originally came to fame for designing Magic: the Gathering in the early 90s, which had a huge impact on my own personal life, as I played the game exclusively for well over a decade. Recently, he’s had an excellent partnership with publisher IELLO since 2011’s King of Tokyo was a huge success, leading to several expansions and spinoffs. Now, they are partnering again for Bunny Kingdom, a drafting game with a cutesy theme. And it turns out there’s more King of Tokyo to follow as well…read on to find out!
The last time we spoke, King of Tokyo had just come out. Since then, the game has completely blown up, spawning many expansions and a standalone game, King of New York. Where do you see the future of the brand going? Will we get another style of expansion beyond power-ups, or another standalone game? What do you still hope to see happen with the game?
I have been working with IELLO on a cooperative King of Tokyo experience, where players are working together—as monsters—to defeat an alien invader. The earth is the monster’s playground, not some outsider’s! Outside of that, I expect more monsters to populate this colorful world that IELLO has created, and perhaps more cards, they are always good fun.
I know you weren’t involved much in the reboot of Netrunner, but do you have thoughts on its progress as a “lifestyle game” over the past five years?
I am quite pleased it is alive and well. The game didn’t change much mechanically, but it is better suited for a living card game than a trading card game. I have always liked the mechanics of Netrunner—with Magic, it sometimes felt like the cards played you, but with Netrunner, the players were more in control. I am also fond of any game where bluffing is front and center.
While King of Tokyo and Netrunner have exploded, my understanding is that SolForge was sold off by Stone Blade Entertainment. What happened there? What lessons did you learn, if any, about digital game design?
My involvement with SolForge wasn’t that large, and I didn’t really learn much new from the experience. I have known for a long time computer games are a finicky pursuit, and am always skeptical about the free-to-play standards that abound in the industry. While there are clearly successes, I believe many of them prey on vulnerable users rather than simply providing excellent gameplay for money. I would stand behind the game design of SolForge. However, I think it was well designed and its failures were from other sources. Failing games are bought for many reasons in the computer game industry—for technology, access to users, or brand awareness for example. I know the folk that bought the game and they did it because they believed in the design.
Bunny Kingdom was just released from IELLO. As I understand it, this game spent several years in development. What’s changed since the original design? What were the most difficult changes to make?
Bunny Kingdom was originally Dwarven Roads, and was taken by a publisher who did not print it for two years—after which Seven Wonders came out and they felt that drafting games were done. I still believed in Dwarven Roads, however, and when I showed it to IELLO they agreed to publish it. The biggest change to the game in the intervening years has been to the flavor, which went several different ways before we ended up with Paul Mafayon’s beautiful bunnies. It was even an ant colony game at one point. I would say choosing the theme was the most difficult part of the publishing process. It took a long time before everyone was on board with the theme.
Mechanically the game got a little simpler in a variety of ways. Drafting two cards a turn rather than one, for example, sped the game up and made it a lot easier to draft cards that go together. At first I thought of this change as a rule just for beginners, but quickly found I just found the game more fun that way.
What’s your favorite card or favorite strategy in Bunny Kingdom?
I am a sucker for overextending myself with the parchments. My favorite parchment is the one that gives you 10 points if you are in second place. It used to be called, “Soooo close…”—I forget what it is called now. For ages it never swung a game I played, but recently it decided two games in a row, and the person who won didn’t even have the card, they copied it using Socialist!
I couldn’t help but notice that the player aid for Bunny Kingdom had a multiplication table on it. When designing a game, how do you decide how much mathematics (and computation, in particular) is enough, too little, or too much? How much does accessibility (of all types) play into your game design process?
Generally I would keep the computation to a minimum, only letting it into the game when it really pays off. Here, a lot of the appeal of the game is the fact you can get huge empire scores, and so there will be some computation. None of my play group, which had a wide variety of seriousness and age as players, ever needed a multiplication chart, and understood the scoring fairly quickly. In fact, the more burdensome part is the end where you are adding up your parchments values. Adding a bunch of random numbers, which is very common in games, is often more burdensome than multiplication.
It is a game that is based on a style of drafting I came up with in the 90s, called the “Winston Draft.” The draft has hidden information and pressing your luck built into it. It plays very well with 2, but where it really shines is teams of 2. You and your partner know different things and are allowed to communicate only by occasional card passes.
[Interviewer’s Note: I used to draft Magic with this method regularly, so this is exciting to see!]
Geeks Under Grace is a faith-based site. Do you think faith or worldview has an effect on the way players approach board gaming, or on the way designers approach game design? Should it?
Absolutely. Different cultures and different worldviews resonate with different game mechanics and flavors. This is far too big a subject to touch on more than lightly—but it also works the other way; a lot of the appeal of games is the way players can safely try out different environments and experiment within them safely.
What have you been reading/watching/playing/listening to/enjoying lately?
I have been reading some books my wife gave me for my birthday—some Mark Twain and Marcus Aurelius. I have also been reading Seven Eves, by one of my favorite authors, Neal Stephenson. I have been watching Rick and Morty, and Better Call Saul. I have been playing Werewords and Dreamquest. I have been listening to Randy Newman. I have been enjoying our almost three-month-old twins.
Thanks to Richard for the great interview, and to IELLO for setting it up!