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An Interview with a Board Game Creator: We Speak to Scott Almes, Creator of Island Hopper

Today, I was given the chance to speak with American board game designer Scott Almes, who I am delighted to say took time away from his most recent Kickstarter campaign, Island Hopper, to answer questions for Gaming Respawn. Scott is also the designer behind the games Harbour and Bigfoot, and with eleven days still to run with Island Hopper, it would appear that another success is imminent.

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Let’s see what Scott had to say:

GR: Where did the inspiration for Island Hopper come from and did you fit the theme to the mechanics or vice versa?

SA: This was a mechanics first game. I knew I wanted players to blindly drop objects… and then I needed to fit a theme from there. Were they dropping things from space ships? Eventually, the best theme for the audience I was going for was island deliveries. Plus, it allowed us to create this very bright tropical artwork, which I love.

GR: Where did the blindfold mechanic idea come from?

SA: As I was designing the dropping mechanism, I knew I needed a way to make the action more difficult. Closing your eyes just seemed obvious!

GR: Can you see Island Hopper being expanded upon or do you see this as a stand-alone game?

SA: At the moment, I consider it a stand-alone game. Never say never, because I never know what inspiration will strike, but for now, it seems very self-contained.

GR: Given that Gaming Respawn has grown through reviewing video games and only recently included board games, can you see Island Hopper crossing over to digital, and if approached by a developer would you consider that for any of your games?

SA: There’s nothing in the works yet, but it could be interesting. I would love to see some of my games get moved to the digital space. I have plenty of game apps that are great. I especially love the Carcassonne and Galaxy Trucker apps. I think some of my titles would be great crossing over to the digital side.

GR: What are your thoughts of combining board games with tablets such as XCOM and Descent?

SA: I think it’s a very fun trend, as long as the apps add something you can’t get through cardboard. For instance, my favourite implementation is in the game Alchemists. It’s a deduction game where you mix potions together and you have to deduce what the different elements are as you randomly combine them. The app is what shows you the result of what mixture, and is a special deduction you can’t get easily in board game form. It’s very, very fun.

GR: Crowdfunding sites and self-publishing have given Indie Developers a new lease of life when it comes to releasing their creative ideas that would previously be reserved for the more established companies. Does it bother you that these businesses are now muscling in on these sites, releasing games through crowdfunding as opposed to risking their cash?

SA: It doesn’t bother me in the least because I can’t blame them. They are searching out a new audience in an increasingly competitive market. But, I think what many are finding is that running a Kickstarter (a big one) is a lot of work. It’s a constant marketing push. For us indie guys, it’s worth that effort. We can’t bankroll our projects otherwise. But, for companies that can, Kickstarter might not be worth their time. But, overall, I can’t fault a company for going where there is an audience.

GR: You obviously know how to be successful using crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter. What tips can you give to budding designers when launching a campaign?

SA: For me, I rely heavily on the expertise of my publishers. As a freelance designer, I’m along for the ride. But I’ve learned some tricks and ways to be helpful in the process. Being active in the comment sections is a big thing. If you can get a good discussion there, then it breathes some serious life into the campaign. Helping with interviews and podcasts for marketing is another one. On the publisher side, getting review copies out and having ads on sites like BoardGameGeek.com is essential for a successful board game campaign.

GR: Have you found any negatives to launching on Kickstarter?

SA: Some people avoid Kickstarter, so they might not be interested in your campaign. This is perfectly fine as long as you plan for a post-Kickstarter product life. Many publishers plan for the Kickstarter and then hope the Kickstarter will carry their game into fame. I can assure you that that probably will not happen. After 6-9 months, or whatever the Kickstarter delivery takes, you’ll need another marketing push to get your product out there. So, for Kickstarter, you kinda have to do two ‘Launches’.

GR: What games do you have in your collections, and do I sense a love of ‘Euro Games?’

SA: I have far too many games in my collection, but I love them all. I certainly have a soft spot for European designs, but I love games of all types. I especially like to collect oddball dexterity games. If a new, quirky dexterity game comes on the market, I instantly take notice. I do tend to have games that are light to medium weight, in terms of difficulty. I have a hard time getting a heavy 2-3 hour game to the table that takes 30 minutes to learn. Something that can be learned in less than 10 minutes and be played in 60 minutes is my sweet spot.

GR: Do you agree that there seems to be a bit of a board game revolution happening at the minute? More and more people from of all ages appear to be investing in tabletop games as well as video games? If so, why?

SA: There’s definitely a revolution happening. I think there’s a lot of things going on, and many that I’m not smart enough to articulate. I think with today’s digital world, finding a chance to sit around the table with people and play a game is much to be desired. Also, there’s the sense of discovery for a lot of people. When people think board games they’ll think Monopoly or Risk, and when the world of modern board games are shown to them, they are honestly surprised. Games have come a long way since Monopoly. They aren’t just for kids anymore. No matter the reason, I think it’s a great thing. Not only because I’m in the business of board games, but because it brings so many people together.

GR: If you had unlimited finances to create any game you wish, what type of game would you design and what theme would you use?

SA: I would build a space race game where you actually launch rockets into the air! Hm, now that’s one for Kickstarter!

Those were the thoughts of Scott Almes whose newest game, Island Hopper, is live on Kickstarter now. You can find out more, watch videos about it, and back it HERE.

Don’t go far, as I will soon be reviewing a zombie apocalypse with a twist.

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