Interview with Geoff Engelstein – Part 1

Full disclosure: Rather than a traditional interview, I sent Geoff a list of questions. He answered them at his leisure. I also felt a bit starstruck by even contacting him. He was happy to answer my questions. Like me, he has a family that loves to play games together.

Geoff Engelstein is the designer of several published games, but my favorite of his is definitely Space Cadets. My friends and I have shared moments with that game that we still belly laugh about today. When I discovered that Geoff designed it with his family, I couldn’t wait to talk to him about designing with his family, and about design in general.

If you had to narrow it to 4 steps, describe your design process?

Wow – tough one. My process tends to wander around and loop back on itself over and over. But if I had to pin it down:

Inspiration – the core idea that you want to convey. For me it usually starts with an experience or emotion, and then I go from there. Sometimes I start with what I think is a neat mechanic, but not often.

Core mechanic – Identify the core mechanic to support the experience. Lots of rapid iteration to try (and usually discard) ideas.

Mechanic Explosion – Add lots of things to the core – effects, dice, cards, whatever. Use the ‘hooks’ that the core gives you to allow things to be changed. Then trim, trim, trim and get back to what really works.

Tuning – Final playtesting and tuning to tighten everything up, deal with balance, play time, etc.

How did your family become a part of the design process?

We always played together, whether it was board games, video games, or whatever. And we always talked about why we liked particular games, what worked, and what didn’t. So when I came up with the idea to take Starcraft (which we enjoyed) and turn it into a card game, it was natural that I would involve the kids in the process.

I also wanted to teach them that you could come up with an idea, and – with a lot of hard work – carry it through and actually see it on a store shelf. That creating things was not some mystical far off process that was out of their reach, that it was something that they could and should do.

What is an example of “kid advice” you’ve used in a game?

In “The Ares Project” we were challenged by Z-Man to come up with a fourth faction for the game. My son immediately wanted to do a giant robot. Because giant robots are cool. But we had absolutely no idea how that would fit into the framework. But we worked and worked and figured out how to do it, and it turned into one of my favorite things in the game.

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