People have been saying lots of good things about Larceny (including our own reviewer M Mazala). William Smith of Waning Gibbous Games joins us today to talk about his hit heist game.
GDC: Give us an overview of your game and how it’s played.
William: In the most basic mode, Larceny plays fast and loose with the traditional party game formula. Each round, one player is the “Chief”, and decides which cards win, while everyone else is the “Crew” and helps to plan the heist. The Chief draws a Score, which is something valuable or fun. The Score could be anything from the Hope Diamond to the Lost Doctor Who Years, and what you’re stealing might influence the Chief’s decisions about which card wins. The Chief also draws two Catches, which are complications that might arise during the heist. A Catch might be anything from High Tech Locks to Zombies, we’ve tried to keep it fun while still presenting some realistic heist problems. The Crew’s cards are Fixes, tools, skills and contacts they’ve collected from their life of crime. A Fix could be anything from lockpicks to a human sized hamster ball, hiring a hacker to limbo skills. The Crew plays one Fix per Catch, and the Chief decides which one works the best. Everyone draws back to their hand limit and next round someone else is Chief.
GDC: What innovative mechanic or creative idea distinguishes your game from others?
William: The first thing that comes to mind is simply the theme of the game. I love party games, but most of them end up as ice breaking word association games. Larceny is unique in that it builds on those mechanics while grounding everything more firmly in reality. In Larceny there’s the extra layer of problem solving and strategy as you need to figure out not only what the Chief for this round might like, but what might actually get the job done.
We’ve also packed a few surprises into the cards. There are cards to steal from other players, cards that let you draw over your hand limit, and a whole series of “specialist” cards that let you perform special actions when they are discarded, such as Hiring an Actress, which lets you play a second card during the round, doubling your chances of winning the point.
Finally, the game itself has a number of variant gameplay modes. We’ve tried to make the most of the components in the box and to offer a variety of different ways to play. There’s a storytelling mode, where you use your Fix cards to outline an entire heist from beginning to end, the best plan winning the point. There’s a strategic planning mode where you select cards for your heist toolkit, then try to improvise around a surprise Catch the Chief throws at you in the middle of your heist. There’s a cooperative variant where the entire Crew works together to pull off the heist, and there’s a team vs. team mode where one team takes on the other side and tries to protect the Score with Catches instead of stealing it. However you like to play, Larceny has you covered.
GDC: Tell us about the spark or inspiration for this game.
William: Inspiration or desperation? I’ve been bouncing ideas for games around in my head for years, but the combination of Kickstarter, realizing that there wasn’t a good heist-themed game out there and our first baby on the way came together to make this happen. Nothing like a deadline to help motivate you!
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.
William: Larceny has seen several iterations. The first version was laser printed on paper and hand cut, no art or flavor text and with a set of cards that only vaguely resembled the final product. That first playtest was still a blast and I knew I had something good on my hands. The majority of the design work has been iterating the cards: looking for the funniest, the most unexpected, and the most universal examples of Catches, Fixes and Scores. Every Fix has to work in multiple situations, every Catch has to have multiple realistic ways around it. And we’re still refining it! The beauty of Kickstarter is that you can communicate directly with your core audience and respond to feedback. I’ll be rewriting some of the specialist cards this weekend based on recent feedback, so it’s definitely an ongoing process.
GDC: What has been your biggest challenge in designing this game?
William: Art. I’m a writer at heart, so all the graphic design, ad banners and Kickstarter page art that go into the game and campaign have been learning experiences for me.
GDC: Let’s shift gears and talk about you. How did you get into game design?
William: The short answer is that I’m an enthusiast trying to turn pro. I’ve been a gamer all my life, and a fan of the Kickstarter crowdfunding model for years. When I got the idea for Larceny, designing and publishing it myself seemed like the most logical approach.
GDC: What is your greatest moment as a game designer?
William: At the moment that would be the first time we playtested something I designed and my friends said things like “I’d buy this game!” It felt good to know I’d made something other people enjoyed as much as I did.
GDC: Tell us a little bit about your life outside of game design and gaming: family? work? other interests?
William: I’m a business analyst by day, married with our firstborn on the way. My interests are what you might expect: board games, roleplaying games, video games, writing and reading
GDC: Do you have any works-in-progress or game ideas you would like to share?
William: Waning Gibbous Games has a few ideas in the works, but right now we’re just talking about Larceny. After the first campaign succeeds we have plans for future products in that line: a card expansion, as well as stand alone genre versions, such as Larceny in Space, or the Cthulhu-Mythos themed Eldritch Larceny.
GDC: What games have you been playing lately? What have you liked, what have you disliked, and why?
William: We’ve mostly been heads down testing and demoing Larceny, but my group has gotten to play a few other games recently. One we tried out at a game meetup a couple of weeks ago was Mascarade, that’s a very solid game. Similar to Mascarade, I also got to try out Hanabi recently and that was good fun. Other than that, I’ve managed to squeeze in a session or two of an ongoing Pathfinder game I’m in. The odd dragon slaying does wonders for stress levels.
GDC: Share your favorite game you haven’t designed and why?
William: Hands down that’d be Arkham Horror. Everything about it works for me. I love the Cthulhu Mythos, for one thing. In fact, Call of Cthulhu was my first roleplaying game as both a player and a Keeper, so it has a special place in my heart. I love roleplaying games, I love good atmospheric storytelling, and I love games where the story and mechanics support each other. The game is complex enough to engage you in new ways every time, yet once you get the hang of it, surprisingly simple to follow along.
GDC: A word of advice to your fellow game designers?
William: Research. Do your research, everything from production timelines to shipping costs, advertising outlets to reviewers. Know your product, your market and your core audience, and how to reach them.
GDC: Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to? (playtesters, design mentors, your friendly local game store, etc.)
William: My biggest thanks go out to my wife for putting up with endless rounds of testing, my artist who managed to work us in while planning her wedding, and my graphic designer for finding time despite a day job, a side job and a full time hobby. I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank all of my play testers who really dug in to not only point out where things didn’t work, but to really help figure out why, and what might work better instead.
GDC: Tell us how (and where) we can find you (social networks, BGG username, website, cons you plan to attend).
William: Reach us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re also on the usual social sites:
Larceny is on BoardGameGeek
And of course find us on Kickstarter RIGHT NOW
GDC: Thanks William! Larceny has less than 24 hours left on Kickstarter and is only a few dollars short of it’s funding goal as of this post – so take a look and send it on over the edge!