Q&A Today: Mike Richie

It’s not every day that we get to enjoy seeing game designer Mike Richie chime in on ELEMENT and all things gaming, so let’s do this, with relish.

Q:  What is it about your board game ELEMENT that might surprise most folks?

MR: An abstract game that really works well with 2, 3, or 4 players is pretty rare. We’ve always wanted ELEMENT to feel like a thousand year old game you just never heard of. And we’ve actually gotten a few comments to that effect.

We had a couple use it in their wedding photos, that was pretty cool. A father said he was able to get his son to unplug and playing ELEMENT was their time to talk about their day. We were just told at Origins by a leader in the industry that it was the best three player game she’s ever seen.

Q:  ELEMENT appeared in wedding photos? Nice! Tell us about some of your other “irons in the fire”?

MR:  We’re working on some awesome stuff right now. I say that with all modesty, but we are really excited about the next couple of years. September we will see the release of HAFID’S GRAND BAZAAR. Beyond that we’re working on a cooperative dungeon crawl that takes five minutes to set up and less than an hour to play, some expansions to ELEMENT, another abstract and more.

Q:  What do you enjoy most about abstract games, and how would you attempt to explain their resurgence?

MR:  I’ve always been an abstract player. My grandfather enjoyed chess, and he taught me at a young age (actually our artist, Grant Wilson modeled the white Sage in ELEMENT after him.) I appreciate the simplicity. I think its harder to make a simple game than it is a complicated one.

As for their resurgence? I don’t think they ever lost popularity as much as there was a perception in the market. It is hard to really market an abstract when compared to larger, bigger budget games with more flash. So yeah, I think the market drove it more than any lack of love for the genre. I think that is why we’re seeing more and more abstracts that are richly themed. It offers a more immersive experience while still giving the mental satisfaction and makes it easier to market. I think we’re going so see an abstract renaissance, at least I hope so.

Q:  What is the best advice you can give to aspiring chess players?

MR:  Don’t play chess like I do. I enjoy it, but honestly I’m not that good.

Q:  When did you first know that you wanted to become a game designer?

MR:  As a lifelong gamer who was redesigning the titles I owned (we had a Lord of the Rings Risk LONG before one was commercially available) I’m not quite sure. I did have an “Aha!” moment shortly after I got married.  If others could do it, so could I! Although It would be another couple of years before circumstances allowed me to ply my designs at Toy Fair and get picked up as a designer. I professionally began my design career in 2006 and published my first title in 2007.

Q:  2017 is the tenth anniversary year of your first published title? Nice! Which title was it, and how should we celebrate / commemorate this joyous occasion?

MR:  My first published title was actually ELEMENT. A very small print run was made and as a younger, more naive designer I allowed my design to be altered TOO much by the publisher. Artistically and mechanically it no longer represented my vision. And despite developing some ardent followers, it fell flat and did not see a reprint for which I was glad. I reacquired the rights, parted ways with that company and sat on it until it was the right time to release what it was meant to be. Now it is everything I hoped for (and better.) We’re just scratching the surface of Rather Dashing’s long term plans for ELEMENT. So celebrate by playing and enjoying this game which has been more than a decade in the making!

Q:  How did Rather Dashing Games come to be and where is it headed?

MR:  Where many great quests begin, around a campfire. Grant, myself, our wives Reanna and Holly were camping. I was deep in the tabletop industry but not designing what I really wanted to be doing in the industry, making the games I want to play. Grant was in a similar situation of wanting to use his artistic talents more professionally than he had been able to. The V8 moment hit and we realized we needed to build our own company. Rather Dashing Games was born. Over the following few years we had success but ran into difficulty marketing our products and reaching a broader fan base with just a two man team backed up by two amazing wives. We were approached by Kalmbach Publishing who were looking to build a gaming division in their 83 year old print-and-hobby company. We had the rocket fuel we needed to really push. Now, a year-and-a-half in, the sky’s the limit!

Q:  How might you describe Grant’s art style to someone who hasn’t seen it before?

MR:  Grant is really a unique artist. He has cultivated multiple art styles. He drew a pencil sketch of a glass of whiskey with ice that you’d swear is a grayscale photo. He also did all of the Celtic-inspired work for ELEMENT that looks like it’s a thousand years old. Right now he is working on what we refer to as “Western Chibi” cartoon style for our upcoming dungeon game, WAKENING LAIR. He’s really diverse.

Q:  WAKENING LAIR, you say?  Do tell?

MR:  WAKENING LAIR is a cooperative dungeon crawl for 2-6 players that is played in under an hour. The industry has its RPG greats like D&D and Pathfinder. It has its big box multi-hour dungeon games like Descent and Gloomhaven. These games are produced VERY well and I enjoy them immensely. The problem is sometimes I simply don’t have the time to invest in them. I’ve been looking for a game like WAKENING LAIR for years and never found it, so we decided to make it.  I try not to oversell my own designs but we keep wearing out our home-printed prototypes because people don’t stop playing. When HALO gets cancelled by a group of 17-19 year old boys to play a prototype all day, we know we’re on to something!

Q:  Which tabletop games have you had the good fortune to enjoy recently?

MR:  We’re pretty deep into Mansions of Madness 2nd edition right now. Tokaido, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Imhotep, Onitama, Odin’s Ravens, and Mysterium have all made it to the table recently.

Q:  Those games are exemplary.  ODIN’S RAVENS is truly inspired.  It’s been wonderful seeing what Osprey Games does. Hats off to Arcane Wonders as well, and their ONITAMA game.  Is there a new game which you’ve been curious to try?

MR:  I actually consulted and helped Arcane Wonders develop ONITAMA for the American market. They did a great job. I’d like to try Scythe and Mystic Vale. I’m currently reading The One Ring RPG and making the mental shift from 3.5 over to Cubicle 7’s system.

Q:  What is it about the term “filler game” that really burns your biscuits?

MR:  Burns my biscuits, creams my corn, grinds my gears! I hear people calling games “filler” all the time but everyone has a different definition of filler. Often it boils down to “that’s not my favorite six-hour game so its just filler”. Yet these same people will play one or two of these so called filler games for an entire evening. I’ve really tried to purge that term from my gaming vocabulary as it can be derogatory and not really give a game its fair due.

Q:  Speaking of six-hour games, which of those would you jump in on right now if given the chance to do so?

MR:  Pathfinder, The One Ring, Descent, a 400 point X-Wing game, Shadows of Brimstone.

Q:  What hasn’t really happened yet, in the world of tabletop gaming, that you would love to see happen next?

MR:  I’d like to see the “fanboys only” mentality go away. I think it is wonderful that more families, women, children, and people from all walks of life from lawyers to plumbers are playing more games. It fills me with optimism for the industry and society. More games means more social, cultural, and critical thinking skills as well as personal association in our society. HOWEVER, every so often I meet someone who wants to go back to the “glory days” where the hobby was cliquish, introverted, and mostly (if not all) boys at your game store. We are growing past that, but I wish it would go faster.

Q:  The industry has come a long way, appealing to a broader spectrum of players than ever before. Analog games still must contend with digital games for attention. You mentioned some of the ways that analog gaming is helpful for a society. Would you expand on that?

MR:  Sure, we need to put the smartphones down and talk to each other. The past few years have seen an increase of discourtesy on social media to say the least. Gaming brings people to the table of every political, religious, vocational spectrum. And there they get along. Gaming brings back family time and expands the imaginations of those who play. It helps us cope with loss, frustration (look I rolled three 1’s in a row) and interpersonal relationships in a safe way. It also provides post-game discussions and reminiscing.

Q:  What are three (3) qualities that a memorable tabletop game should have?

MR:  First and foremost, did your group enjoy playing it? Are you still talking about it later? Are you looking forward to playing it again? If so, then it’s fun.

Two other Points… Did the art help to provide an immersive experience? Were the rules well-written? I have games which I have yet to play because the rules are a mess and frustrating. I also have games where the art/theme just does not enrich the mechanics. Those games don’t come out as often.

Q:  Which board games would you recommend for parents looking to introduce their young children to the tabletop world?

MR:  I’m a big fan of cooperative games and I think it’s a great way to start your kids into gaming. While the game may be too advanced for them to play on their own, the team-based nature allows for older players to assist. So I would recommend games like Castle Panic, or Defenders of the Realm. For much younger players I have yet to be disappointed by anything HABA releases.

Q:  If you were leaving tomorrow, on a cruise to Iceland, and you could bring three games along with you for the voyage, which three games would accompany you?

MR:  I’d bring something I was working on. Other than that, I’d bring games that were approachable to others who are not deep in our hobby, in an effort to make friends on the boat. Maybe Ticket to Ride, Pentago (gotta have my abstract,) and Alhambra.

Q:  What are you most looking forward to this summer?

MR:  Autumn! I love the fall! Other than that, I’m looking forward to Gen Con, we should have a very strong presence at the show this year. On a personal side, hiking with my wife and son, grilling, and spending time with friends.

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