I’ve got a special interview today with Jason Gott of Gott Games. Jason’s game Build-It Trains is on Kickstarter – and if you are reading this within 16 hours of it being posted you still have the chance to back it.
GDC: Give us an overview of your game and how it’s played.
Jason: Build-it Trains is a very simple color and cargo matching card game where young children can play on nearly equal ground with their parents. It doesn’t have any reading required and only ever needs 4 cards in hand while most of the time you will have 3 cards in hand. Its was made with a variable game length for my wife and I to play with our boys anytime of the day, sometimes when we have only a few minutes and we can play a short game, while mostly we find ourselves playing to a set number of points the boys can arbitrarily choose as we sit down, which they really like getting to choose. The game is divided into 2 types of cards: 1st type is the Goal cards that feature 3 specific train cards in a specific order. 3 of these are revealed at any given time and you collect the goal card as a point when you complete that train. The 2nd type are Train cards, which are each one train engine or cargo car, these will be used to complete the goal cards. The play area is an imaginary tic tact toe board in front of each player allowing for 9 total train cards to be in play in front of you at any given time.This works out to be 3 trains at a time in the works. The rules are very simple; on a players turn they can either draw 1 card and play 1 card into their play area called the train yard, or choose to fix instead. When a player chooses to fix, they pick up all train cards in front of them and replay them leaving 3 or more cards in their hand, they then discard down to 3, allowing them to rid themselves of any cars they know they will not need.
GDC: What innovative mechanic or creative idea distinguishes your game from others?
Jason: The innovative mechanic in this game is its ability to be played in so many game lengths. As parents of three boys our time is pretty finite. I made sure to come up with a way to never have to say “no, there is no time.” when making this game.
GDC: Tell us about the spark or inspiration for this game.
Jason: The inspiration for this game comes from my oldest sons interest in playing train toys when he was younger. I remember sitting on the floor for more hours than I can count today, pushing both wooden and plastic trains, even playing ones with remotes through various villages or industrial parks. Last year when my now 4 yr old inherited his interest in trains and we started pulling out all the old train sets from the basement, I saw the cumbersome nature of it all and wanted something better. We still enjoyed that phase of trains and playing with all the toys, only this time he had an older brother who wasn’t quite interested in those toys anymore, at least not as interested. So their play was divided. This card game solved that for us. The soon to be 9 yr old can play head to head against his now 4 yr old brother and both enjoy the game play. No more large boxes to carry or piles of tiny parts to put away. No more dead batteries either. Win win. So playing trains is no longer just something for a rainy day when we have nothing better to do, now it can be every day here.
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.
Jason: We started on index cards hand drawn and after about 4 versions i drew up the art in inkscape and printed a copy on business card sheets. Then by the 3rd reprint of the game on business card sheets, the math worked and the gameplay was smooth, and that is what we have today. The most interesting thing i remember from playtesting was seeing how changing the number of goal or train cards just slightly changed the games mechanic so very much. I am now confident that I have the perfect balance of “I want that card and have this card” in the game.
GDC: What has been your biggest challenge in designing this game?
Jason: The was a challenge to make the game with precisely 50 cards so that the print costs would be lowest. It took a while to make the balance I had found at other card counts, to be perfect at a 50 card count.
GDC: Let’s shift gears and talk about you. How did you get into game design?
Jason: Well game design is something I’ve always wanted to do. Since I was twelve when I made up my own pen and paper game that was about the history lesson we were about to be tested on, I realized I could make a game about just about any topic as long as it played smoothly and allowed the player to feel a part of it. It didn’t need the dice, the dungeons or the dragons to be fun. But they didn’t hurt.
GDC: What is your greatest moment as a game designer?
Jason: Well thats an easy one, my greatest moment has surely been watching my sons play my games with my wife and I and having so much fun. Having them pass over other commercial games on the shelves to choose games I’ve made for them has been empowering too.
GDC: Tell us a little bit about your life outside of game design and gaming: family? work? other interests?
Jason: Well, my wife and I have 3 amazing boys, so far two have some serious food allergies, which is another reason I’m so very glad that we homeschool them. I am a very shy person, most of my time is spent with my family. I’ve worked in various places here and there, from loading trucks right out of high school to electronics retail, apprentice jeweler, property management, and even some minor construction. No matter where I was working at the time, I was always filling notebooks with game ideas ranging from card, board and video games.
GDC: Do you have any works-in-progress or game ideas you would like to share?
Jason: Well I am just finishing work on the sequel to Build it Trains and already have like 50 or more notebooks filled with game ideas and layouts, but I still focus on the stuff that I wake up with that day rather then looking backward into my old designs. I have 15 tabletop games that I’ve made and play tested a bit with my family. The reason we decided to Kickstart Build-it Trains was that everyone who played it was able to understand it; From 3 yrs old (with some help) to my parents who aren’t gamers at all… It seemed the obvious choice due to its wide range of reach. If u can play Tic Tac Toe, you can play this game.
GDC: What games have you been playing lately? What have you liked, what have you disliked, and why?
Jason: Today my wife and I still manage to find time to play Ultima Online (UO) now and then. I enjoy a bunch of Indie games right now, though my play time is limited. My favorites are Don’t Starve, FTL, and Revenge of the Titans, on steam.
GDC: Share your favorite game you haven’t designed YET and why?
Jason: I’m gonna change that question a bit… Ha! well I have a specific game in mind and have had it in mind since I was twelve. Its grown and evolved a bunch since I started designing it. I have created several tabletop iterations of it, but its probably best a PC game unless I can master controlling the details better. Someday, I tell myself. Someday I will have the knowledge and resources to move this passion into a reality. It is something unlike anything out there yet. I once wrote a story during high school. It became my outlet, and was to me the greatest thing ever. The game is based on the story world I had created. By tenth grade I had written about it numerous times in creative writing. So I still tell myself “someday” as I stare at the boxes of cards I printed to test out my ideas for this game. Great Question, Thank you for letting me change it a bit
GDC: One word of advice to your fellow game designers?
Jason: If it isn’t in your heart then don’t do it. If you don’t like it, but think its needed, then don’t do it. For example: At times I find myself wanting to add things to my games that are outside of their original design, something I just thought would be cool or something I see others having. Just don’t do it. Just because others have dice, doesn’t mean you need them too, same applies for violence. It even applies to little things, like how cards look, how many players, to the tiniest details. Make the game that is in your heart period. If my Kickstart fails, its OK because the game I’m bringing is the game I made myself, just the way it should have been made. My wife and boys love it and that is enough for me. Make your personal mark on every aspect of your game, leaving aside all the choices that others have made. I hope that works for advice.
GDC: Tell us how (and where) we can find you (social networks, BGG username, website, cons you plan to attend).
Jason: I am not very familiar with most of that, but my wife did buy me New York COMIC CON tickets for my birthday this October. If I can muster the courage to go to something so fantastic it will be my first. I may be one of the anonymous people you bump into this year at the con. I do have a Facebook page if you would like to see what I am doing now or even next. Thank you for the interview!
GDC: Thank you Jason! As of the time of this post Build-It Trains is just short of its funding goal with 16 hours left on the clock. You can pick up the game for a mere $10 – if you are reading this before the project closes go help push Jason past his goal!