Today’s interview is with Cole Medeiros. Cole is the designer of the card game GUBS, and now he’s talking with us about his latest design: Star Captains.
GDC: Give us an overview of your game and how it’s played.
Cole: I am currently working on a space adventure game, with the working title of Star Captains! So far everyone hates that name and is afraid it will stick, but I am letting it hang around like a mangy old dog I can’t quite bring myself to dislike. Star Captains is my dream game; I’ve always wanted to have my own spaceship (like Han Solo or Mal from Firefly) and cruise around the galaxy, getting into trouble and running odd jobs through the universe. There are games that try to do this (Space Alert, Battlestations, Space Cadets, and more recently Xia: Legends of a Drift System, etc.) but none of them really accomplished exactly what I wanted. I want an adventure with a highly customized ship and crew. I want something elegant, short and easy to play, but rich in story and possibilities. So I set out to make that game.
GDC: What innovative mechanic or creative idea distinguishes your game from others?
Cole: The game can be set up in 5 minutes, played for about 45 minutes, but captures all the elements of the lone spacer, moving cargo, blasting through danger, and ultimately joining with the ranks of legends. Other players pilot ships and function as your rivals, not quite outright enemies but cut throat none the less. The game will feature stunning artwork and rich theme. Mechanically I’m trying for a few neat things. For one, I’m working on a system that features a unique movement mechanic to plot jumps throughout the stars. Whichever player uses their navigation data best will ultimately scoop up the best loot, hire the better crew, and aim for the stars. In addition, the board abstracts both the galaxy and each player’s ship, so that the scope of the game goes from the size of a vast universe down to the interior of your ship, all on a single board.
GDC: Tell us about the spark of inspiration for this game.
Cole: Some people might hate me for this, but I’ll be honest: Talisman gave me the idea. More accurately, Relic, which is based on the Talisman system. Now a lot of people hate Talisman for valid reasons (it is random, goes too long, etc etc.). But one thing I find great about it at a high level is that the game can create great stories. And you never quite know what will happen. I wanted to capture what I think is great (wandering about the stars, flipping cards to see what happens, and using what resources you come across to win the game.) The real trick was figuring out how to eliminate the problems that Talisman presents, and give players more choice and meaningful decisions. They need to be able to control, or at least mitigate, that randomness.
GDC: Let’s talk about the design process. Tell us a bit about the iterations the game has gone through and the refinements you’ve made along the way.
Cole: So I build a great little prototype with modular space tiles, a bunch of different decks and ship’s with different stats. I spent a lot of time balancing it and be excited about it. Then I realized that while it worked very well, it was not fun at all. I basically missed the point, that the main character of this game is suppose to be the player’s ship. I want to be inside that ship, not looking at a tiny card and pretending I care about those stats.
So I scrapped this version but carried over what I learned to the current version.
This board is still very rough, but it shows the basic idea of the new board layout.
So I zoomed in and made the ship take up most of the board. Players place colored tokens on different sections to represent their progress towards improving those systems (thematically each player has their own ship, even though they use the same schematic to track its progress.) The galaxy is abstracted around the ship map, and players jump about the outskirts, uncovering hazards and opportunities as they go. Playtesting has been crucial. Any time a group plays your game and seems very distracted, that’s a sign you’re missing something. So I’ve iterated extensively to figure out what that is, which brings me to the big challenge.
GDC: What has been your biggest challenge in designing this game?
Cole: I want to make an adventure game. The issue with that is that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for players to be fighting each other throughout an adventure. But if they are not on the same team, how do they interact while off having their own adventures? Many adventure games are simply races to some kind of goal. In Talisman, players interact by flinging spells or attacking each other when in the same space.
One thing I realized is that interaction can take many forms. For example, as I explore the board, am I revealing things you might want? Does that information change your strategy? Do the cards I’m using to move affect your knowledge of what is left in the movement deck? Do my actions reveal what nasty Rivalry card I might be saving to use on you? Also, there can be global events which involve everyone… the Trade Federation is accepting new members, how many resources will you secretly bid to gain entry? These are some of the touch points I’m trying to emphasize in Star Captains.
GDC: Let’s shift gears and talk about you. How did you get into game design?
Cole: I’ve always loved games because I feel like the good ones are story machines. You mix some cards and roll some dice, and out pops a memory you share with your friends. When I was younger I started working on a game called GUBS, which has since been published by Gamewright Games, and that has been great fun to watch grow. Game have always been a hobby of mine, which is why I went professionally from Shoe Salesman (right out of college) to Graphic Designer, to Game Designer. I lean towards theme and story, and games help me tell great stories.
GDC: What is your greatest moment as a game designer?
Cole: When I first self-published GUBS began a series of many great moments. Opening the first shrink wrapped box was incredible. Seeing it on the shelf in my favorite game stores, first on consignment only and eventually through a distributor. And then, after a little while, getting fan mail from little kids with drawings of GUBS. There were lots of great toys and game which inspired me as a kid, and seeing GUBS do that for families feels like I’m giving back and working on something special.
GDC: Do you have any works-in-progress or game ideas you would like to share?
Cole: Next up I’d like to work on a game idea I am about half finished with. It’s a pure story telling game which works much like an RPG with a rotating Game Master. Players have cards which they use in almost a tarot like fashion to craft a great little cooperative story. So far it’s good fun, but needs more work.
GDC: Share your favorite game you haven’t designed and why?
GDC: One word of advice to your fellow game designers?
Cole: Design for yourself. Make something you love to play. Then when your audience finds your game, they will love it and feel the love you put into it.
GDC: Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to? (playtesters, design mentors, your friendly local game store, etc.)
Cole: Grant Rodiek is a good friend of mine and a great designer. Lots of passion for games and also helping to enhance the gaming community. Also Matt Griffin is someone who I work with regularly on all my prototypes. He released a game called Wanderlust on Steam that has been a personal project of his for years. Check it out!
GDC: Tell us how (and where) we can find you (social networks, BGG username, website, cons you plan to attend).
Cole: You can follow me on Twitter @TheGubsGuy or catch up with me at GenCon where I’ll be playtesting Star Captains! (NOTE: Apologies – this interview was recorded prior to GenCon. If you were able to catch up with Cole there and try Star Captains let me know by leaving a comment!)
GDC: Thanks so much Cole! Best of success with Star Captains!