Today is Designer Interview Tuesday! Every Tuesday we will interview a game designer – from amateurs working on their first game to published designers of multiple titles. Today’s designer is Moss Doerksen. Moss is 31 and lives in British Columbia. He is a web and graphic designer, and studies computer animation and linguistics. He is currently putting the final touches on his board game, Verb’d (working title), the game where mighty cheerleaders can smite flamboyant wizards!
Moss Doerksen - Verb'd
Game Designer Chronicles (GDC): Give us an overview of your game and how it’s played.
Moss Doerksen: Verb’d (name likely to be changed) has three types of cards: characters, verbs, and adjectives. Players each pick a character (and can collect more over time). The game then revolves around using these characters to perform various verbs against, with, or for each other (mostly against). Adjectives are used in order to buff your own character or weaken your opponents. Any player can play adjectives on any character during a “verb encounter”, so things can get interesting. There are various results depending on if you succeed or fail in accomplishing a verb. Coins and victory points are awarded if you succeed. Note that some aspects of the game, such as the final win conditions, could change before publishing.
Verb’d has a cartoony style. The theme is purposely generic so that pirates, aliens, wizards and cheerleaders can all play in the same game. It is simple, intuitive and lighthearted, but not a silly game. The rules are solid and serious strategy is possible.
GDC: What innovative mechanic or creative idea distinguishes your game from others?
Moss: I don’t have an exhaustive knowledge of all the games out there but I think mine is unique in the particular way it uses language/words as the building blocks to create logical, amusing and varied gameplay. In most games your race or class or character has a certain set of actions they can perform, or else all players are essentially equal and can do the same things. Verb’d is more modular and flexible. You could try to have your Gorilla bribe a Lawyer, but you would have a much better chance doing it the other way around. Even a Princess could karate chop a Robot of she was Beefy and Ferocious and the Robot was Crippled.
GDC: Tell us about the spark or inspiration for this game.
Moss: The spark came the first time I was playing Munchkin. A friend was battling a level 6 Lawyer, and another player made the Lawyer Ancient, making it more difficult to fight. I thought this idea of just using an adjective like “ancient” to modify a character rather than using some physical item or inherent ability was very interesting. Adjective are open to a lot more possibilities and humour. That got me thinking about coming up with a game where you essentially made sentences happen, which meant there needed to be verbs, not just a generic battle. I also found that Munchkin was most interesting when players got to interfere with each other. In Munchkin, as in Dungeons and Dragons you fight non-player monsters, but why not fight each other?! And the fact that all players can play adjectives at any time really mixes things up. So Munchkin was effectively my starting point. I tried to create a game with a similar amusing and spiteful style, but one that is more PvP focused and less random. I should mention that I have an interest in linguistics. I started this before officially studying linguistics but there is definitely a connection there. I love how language works and I think it can be a great inspiration for games, not just word games.
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.
Moss: I spent almost a month mulling it over at first while I painted a house. It took awhile for the core logic to fall into place. Once I had an idea that I thought would work I started defining cards in a spreadsheet, using numbers that I hoped were reasonably balanced based on the gameplay I imagined in my head. That took a few weeks. Then, using my skills as a web designer, I created a template system that allowed me to convert the spreadsheet into a web page that could be printed out nicely on to 8.5×11 sheets. For the first print run I printed it at home on business card sheets. I then unleashed it on my friends. At the time I regularly hung out with a sizable group of longtime friends who were either gamers or married to gamers. They all loved the game even though it was wildly unbalanced. At first there were some large changes made and experimented with. The rest has been a continual (sporadic) tinkering and evolution of the game over the past few years. The core idea of characters doing verbs to each other and affecting the outcome with adjectives has never changed, but all the surrounding mechanics have been played with a lot. It’s always been gradual changes though. I mean, some rule changes have a profound affect on the game and may require secondary changes or a rebalancing of all the cards, but I have always tried to deal with one problem at a time. I don’t suppose all games are designed this way, but in this case it has really been a matter of finding the right macro-mechanics for the core idea to fit into. I have done about 3 or 4 printings of the deck. I soon switched to printing it at a local copy shop. They look quite professional and it costs less than $20.
GDC: What has been your biggest challenge in designing this game?
Moss: Early on it was a bit chaotic. There was obviously an interesting idea there but I needed to get some decent balance and workable mechanics in before my friends found too many holes in the game and lost interest. There were actually some tricky circumstances where a few of my friends were really excited about the idea and wanted to help design it. But they wanted to have equal ownership and control of the game which was something I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. There was a lot of discussion about it but in the end they decided they didn’t want to get emotionally invested in the game if they couldn’t have equal say in its outcome. So I could no longer depend on them as play testers. It is regrettable but I think I did what I had to in those circumstances.
In later times a lot of my concentration has been on reducing the time it takes to play the game while still allowing enough action to take place so that there is room for strategy.
GDC: Let’s shift gears and talk about you. How did you get into game design?
Moss: I have always liked designing things. Since I was a kid I have always been exploring and creating, whether that be drawing, composing music, designing fantasy worlds with their own languages, creating 3D animations, programming experimental graphics and language related scripts, or games. I enjoy designing games disproportionately to how much I actually play them. I don’t have a large collection of games. I think the first board game I designed was an alternate Monopoly board when I was 11 or so. I also recall coming up with a Chess-like game which I never really played. Then there was a Risk-inspired game which I put a lot of work into but sadly didn’t really play either. Then there was a unique abstract game, Tagma, which I actually played and refined with my friends for awhile but we lost interest in it for some reason. In my early twenties I enjoyed leading and occasionally designing simple group games for a youth group. On the computer I tried programming a few little flash games. I also designed custom maps for Warcraft and Starcraft and tracks for lesser known racing games. I spent a huge amount of time creating a custom Warcraft game similar to DotA. So clearly there is something in me that likes designing games. I was kind of focusing more on other things for awhile though until Verb’d got in my head, and since then I have tried to focus on getting it to a state worthy of publishing before I get carried away with other ideas.
GDC: Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to?
Moss: I am grateful to the many friends, classmates and others who have been willing to play my game. My sister and brother-in-law have especially played the game many times. Also my friend Ryder who took a copy of the game to Chicago and played with many classmates there. I’d also like to thank Darren at www.lostatlantisgames.com, a local game shop owner who tested out the game and gave good feedback (he liked it). The members of BoardGameGeek have also been very nice and helpful with my occasional forum posts.