Trevor Harron Blue Heron Games

Q&A with Trevor Harron

It’s not every day we get to enjoy seeing game designer Trevor Harron chime in on Collectors and Capers, and all things gaming, so let’s do this, with relish.

Q:  What can you share with us about your game Collectors and Capers, without giving away too much?

TH: Collectors and Capers is a game where you and the other players have shown up to a museum, Italian Job style, but the catch is none of you are part of the same crew. As the heist goes on you need to use careful bluffing, actions, and occasionally truth telling to get away with the goods you want! Collectors and Capers is a bluffing and set collecting game that really makes you play your opponents and not just the cards that are on the table.

Q:  What’s one example of an action which may occur during the game?

TH:  Well some of the simpler actions are to draw cards. In Collectors and Capers there are 2 ways to draw cards, one is to draw from the top of the deck and the other is to take one of 5 face up cards and put it into their hand. While this seems to be a question of a guaranteed draw vs. a random draw the psychology can become more intricate in drawing cards to either deprive your opponents of the cards they need or even to set up a bluff by drawing cards from the face up set only to not use them in your bid for the treasure. 

Q:  What are some of your other “irons in the fire”?

TH:  Good question! Currently I am actively working on two other games: Affectionate™ – Cats and Cuddles and Eminence Grise™ – The Power Behind the Throne! Affectionate is a dice game for the whole family (including those who don’t normally play games) where the players are trying to be the sweetest most cuddly cat in the house! Every player is involved in every turn and games can take as little as 5 minutes. Eminence Grise on the other hand, is a social collusion, kingmaking game where the players are trying to determine who is going to be the next ruler of the realm (and who really has the power behind the throne).

Q:  Which roleplaying games have you enjoyed most, and why?

TH: I love roleplaying games, ranging from the traditional pen and paper games to video games, so let me break each of these down. For the pen and paper games, I would have to say that mechanically I love Fate Core. It is an elegantly designed system that encourages collaborative storytelling and is a pleasure to play. However, when it comes to a game that really can immerse you into the world of the game, I would have to go with the first edition of Dark Heresy. For me, Dark Heresy helps put the players into the Grimdark mindset which only makes the more awesome moments (and allure of forbidden technology and knowledge) palpable to the players in the game.

Q:   Share a favorite Dark Heresy moment with us?

TH: That is a tough to nail down just one great moment. From the many memorable moments however I would have to go with some of the out of combat moments where one of my character would was a puritan to the point of not trusting any psykers fled from a major boss encounter out of pure terror. After combat occurred the character then submitted himself into the service of a radical inquisitor and eventually became a sorcerer. What makes this my favorite moment is that he kept his own code and, in many ways, orthodoxy to the imperial creed but instead saw his own weakness as corruption and thus believed that if he could not be redeemed then he could only serve best as corrupt so that others could be saved.

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

TH: Well, my whole life I have loved playing games and, if I think about it, making games was something I always wanted to do. From reading about and playing chess variants from across the world to playing games like Magic the Gathering, Ticket to Ride, and Catan realized I love games. I also have had many other creative pursuits ranging from visual art, sculpture, theater, and poetry that I have worked on over the years. All of this creative energy started to come to a head after I graduated from Middlebury College in 2014, when I found myself thinking of and designing games in my spare time. As soon as I started making these games (some of which are still in the idea phase) others came to mind (and still do today). From this initial burst of ideas, Collectors and Capers was born and I have fully embraced game design since then.

Q:  What do you suppose it is (about Collectors and Capers) that might be a pleasant surprise for jaded gamers?

TH:  For the jaded gamer I offer that Collectors and Capers is designed for depth. The rules and actions on your turns are simple enough and approachable, but as you play more and more, new strategies start to unfold and that is where I designed the fun. At its core Collectors and Capers is a game about the players at your table and leveraging what you know and what you know about what others know to your advantage.

Q:  Which other tabletop games have you enjoyed recently?

TH:  I enjoy many games including several that are still in the playtesting phase but the published games I have the most enjoyed recently are Viticulture, The Grizzled, and Android Netrunner. For The Grizzled I was especially impressed about their use of mechanics as metaphor and wrote a blog post about it.

Q:   Where can our readers find your blog?

TH:  Your wonderful readers can find my blog at www.blueherongames.com/blog and know that every Sunday morning I post a new entry about my thoughts on games and gaming as a whole in a set of pieces called Morning Table Talk.

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

TH:  There are so many exciting things happening but I do hope to see more games that fit together and work together as more of an epic experience. The Legacy games touch upon this concept but it seems that most games are designed for the single experience.

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

TH:  It’s hard to narrow it down to just 3! However, if I have to choose, then my top 3 qualities for a memorable table game are player engagement, replayability, and the ability to allow for different styles of play. Each of these items are key to not only a memorable game but a good game as well. If a game has player engagement not only am I excited about my turns (and who isn’t in a game) but also the turns of others. This could mean players able to interact on each other’s turns, keeping player elimination out, a short amount of time eliminated, or a minimal time waiting for your turn. Replayability is the second thing and that is key for me since a game should encourage me to keep playing and explore all of the nuances of its mechanics. Finally, allowing different kinds of play styles is an essential part of a memorable game. Several games have an optimal strategy or pattern and if a game has different paths to victory then it prevents players from being boxed out in a game.

Q:  When it comes to player engagement, which of the more successful tabletop games do you feel really shine in this department?

TH:  Well I would like to think that Collectors and Capers fits that bill but for other games I would have to say that on the whole Nyet!, Clestia The Grizzled, Hansa, and Splendor. Each of these games either provide for actions for players to take on another player’s turn, have a voting/bidding system, the turns are short, or you as a player care about the other player’s actions. All of these games have a common theme of keeping me invested in other people’s turns and actions and showcase a wide variety of player engagement.

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

TH:  Well that depends on the children, I have always found that the best games to use are ones that are close to the Hoyle’s games or close to games that they might play with non-gaming friends. These games would include Labyrinth, Slamwhich, Clue, Dixit, Sleeping Queens, and other silly games like Zombie Dice. The key with games to teach to young children is to have mechanics that compensate for lack of experience. Once it is published, Affectionate would be a perfect game for introducing young children into the world of tabletop games for its fast paced play, interactivity, and cuteness.

Q:  You mentioned the Hoyle’s games and that’s very interesting.  Those games tend to be a bit overshadowed by everything that’s new exciting.  Which of the many classic Hoyle’s games are you most likely to be found enjoying?

TH:  I have not played all of them but the ones I have played and love include Hearts, Cribbage, and Rummy. These games have great mechanics and their influence can be seen in modern games and are always great to play with friends who do not play hobby games a lot or family.

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

TH:  I would go with ‘Mu and lots more’, The Grizzled, and Tak. Each of these games is easily packed and has all of the qualities I mentioned before in the ‘three qualities question.’ In addition to those qualities, each of these games are easily explained to new players and provide new mechanics to enhance familiar ideas that non-gamers may not be familiar with. With each of these games I want to provide a flexibility for meeting new people and having a good time with them.

Q:  As an abstract board game derived from a Rothfuss fantasy novel in which the rules of the game aren’t exactly defined, Tak really stands out from the crowd.  What do you enjoy most about abstract games?

TH: There are several things to love about abstract games, typically they are simple to learn, are approachable given the absence of a strong theme, and are difficult to master. While all of these qualities are appreciated in an abstract game the one that stands out to me is that the games are difficult to master. As a designer I appreciate when a game contains subtleties to allow for a deep understanding and mastery of the game and abstract games do that beautifully.

Q:  What’s scarier, dungeons or dragons? And why?

TH:  Well considering all manner of things that live in the dungeons (not to mention the horrid conditions) I would have to say dungeons. Dragons are terrifying in their own right but the terror of not knowing what is beyond every corner and the fear of what lurks there is scarier to me.

Q:   What’s the single greatest treasure any of your RPG player characters ever found in a dungeon?

TH:  The greatest treasure one of my clerics got was from the Deck of Many Things. While not in a dungeon this was memorable since my dice rolls are not great and thus I was hesitant to draw from the deck but was greatly rewarded with a castle and enough land to be a duke at the 4th level and thus started to have my character rebuild a kingdom and to use the castle as a base of operations.

Q:  A lucky pull!  The Deck sure is risky business.  Of all the Gygaxian magic items, which are some of your favorites?

TH:  Well obviously the Deck stands at the top of that list! As for the other Gygaxian Magic items I would have to go with the ring of bureaucratic wizardry as well! The reason for the ring is that I played as a very ‘lawful’ (filling out all of the paperwork for customs as the party came to a new city/town) cleric and I could see him placing this ring on an arcane user ‘just in case.’ As for other magic items, I personally like to see what DMs come up with on their own since it is a truly creative process to conjure up ideas for these items including a orb that bestowed prophecy on a player but the player could not explain the prophecy without the orb.

Q:  What are you most looking forward to, during the cooler months ahead?

TH:  There are so many things to look forward to this year! In terms of the Seattle weather, I love the gray and showers that come in the cooler months, it is fantastic for being creative, playing games, and great for curling up with cats! My company Blue Heron Entertainment will be at PAX Unplugged selling my games and game accessories. Also I will be at PAX West and Geek Girl Con in September and also I will be working on getting my games Affectionate – Cats and Cuddles and Eminence Grise produced/ready for Kickstarter!