This year at the Essen Spiel far, I met up with a designer whom I greatly admire for his merging of things I love in board games. I recently began playing the Battlecon series of games (and I’m loving it) and I’ve previously played quite a few of his other games. I find his work as both a publisher and a designer interesting and I hope you will enjoy this interview with D. Brad Talton Jr.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Sure, My name is Brad Talton David Brad Talton Jr., that is what the ‘D’ is for, but I go by Brad. I’ve Been in the gaming industry for about four years now. I started out in 2011 and our (Level 99 games, Ed.) first game was Battlecon – War of Indines. Since then we’ve produced a couple of hit games. Pixel Tactics, Argent the Consortium, a remastered edition of Battlecon, and we’re working on producing a new edition of Pixel Tactics, and we’ve got a really cool game coming out early next year called Millennium Blades that is a CCG (Collectible Card Game, Ed.) simulator card game.
What’s yours favourite game?
My favourite game is the one I’m working on currently. But if you said to me, Brad let’s play a game, any game you want, I would probably pull down Libertalia off my shelf, by Paolo Mori. It’s a very simple game, very elegant. But it’s got a lot of theme. It does what it does really well, it’s got a lot of replayability and it’s got a lot of strategy to it. So it would be the game that I would probably say is my favourite game on the market currently.
I prefer to use a small card game. I mean if we are just playing a short game, something like Noir is a great introduction to the Hobby. If the new player is someone who already plays a lot of video games, I would show him something like Pixel Tactics, because you are already used to more complex effects and interactions. For the casual player I would chose something like Noir or Resistor.
What’s your best game experience?
It’s tough I have a lot of good experience. It would probably be Merchant of Venus, my friend has a home made copy that is double the size of the regular copy and it plays up to eight players and it’s got this huge map that is bigger than this table (the table was quite big, ed. ). He made the whole thing from scratch himself using ArtsCow and using his own home made components, tokens and everything. We’ve played that many times. He brings it out for every Board Game Geek Con, so I’d say that that’s probably been my most fun in gaming playing those four hour games of Merchant of Venus using his set. It’s pretty awesome.
What is the most important aspect of playing games for you?
Having the right crowd for the games you’re playing. I enjoy a wide range of games, but if you are at a long game with players who prefer a short game or playing a short game with players who want a long game, it’s not the best experience. So the most important thing to gaming is having the right atmosphere and the right group who are ready for the game that’s about to be played. When everybody’s there, caught up in the moment, that kind of suspension of disbelief. It sucks you in and you’re there and a part of it and there’s nothing else outside of it.
Why do you design games?
I have always designed games ever since I was a kid. I wanted to be a video game designer when I was younger. I used to want new video games and when my parents didn’t have money for a game they would say ‘go make your own’ , and I would go and make my own game with paper and markers and stuff. None of them were that great, but I’ve always made them. Ever since I was six up until I was about sixteen I would make CCGs, like home made CCGs. printing my cards out. I made a CCG with about a thousand cards in it. It was a lot of fun for my friends. But I didn’t actually know there was anything besides Magic the Gathering, Monopoly and Risk until I got to college. Then I found out about the hobby and found out, oh my god, there’s tens and thousands of games, wow people make a living doing this? I can make a living doing this. And so I left my day job as a programmer back in 08 in the market crash and then I started doing contract work, and in the nights between my contracts I would write board games. Then Kickstarter happened and I said, my games are good enough to Kickstart, so I go to Kickstarter and we produced the first Battlecon game, and the rest is history from there.
What are you most proud of?
I think that to me the most important thing is to make people happy. When I go to a convention and someone comes up and say, Brad I really love your game and I’ve played it a whole bunch, please sign my box. That’s what really makes me happy. So I’m not proud of any specific game but of the experience that we’ve given people. So I’m proud of the people that I’ve made happy.
What is the most important part of making a game for you?
It’s changed a lot for me over the years. The most important part now when I design a game, I think about the human component. When you have a system and a program and it works in a certain way, and there’s an operator, who’s involved and in a game you have multiple operators – you have the players. Then I’m not thinking so much about the game itself, but in the way the players interface with the game, the way they perceive information, the way they manage that information and how they use it to make decisions. That’s what I really focus on in my games.
In a game like Battlecon you have a lot of information, and in Pixel Tactics you have a ton of information to manage,but the information is presented in such a way that it’s clean and concise and there’s only a few important divergences you can do so you don’t have to think too hard about specific numbers – you have to think about the overall strategy. And that’s what I try to design for, a way that is easy for humans to interface with the game system.
Do you usually like to start from the theme or mechanics?
It depends, sometimes I get a great idea for a mechanic, and sometimes a great idea for a theme. Most of my mechanical games start out with a deck of cards, and so they are smaller card games. My larger board games tends to start with theme. So it depends on the kind of game you are making.
Where do you find your inspiration for new game themes and mechanics?
I don’t know, inspiration is something that comes when you are working and when you are playing. I mean when you have a balanced life of immersing yourself in your work, and also immersing yourself in the media that you love, so for me it’s video games, it’s comics and other board games. When I’m thinking about my work and doing those other things it all comes together and helps me come up with new board game ideas. But if you do too much of one or the other, then inspiration goes away so it’s important to find balance.
I hope you enjoyed this interview. I did continue my talks with Brad after these questions, and perhaps this will turn up in another article. After the interview we played both the upcoming Dragon Punch and Brad taught me how to play Battlecon properly, and thus my second game of the game was with the designer. I had a great time and look forward to meeting Brad at next years Essen.
If you want to know more about Brad and the games he design you can find his company website at Level99Games.com.