Interview with Randy Hoyt: Game Designer at Foxtrot Games
Interview with Randy Hoyt: Game Designer at Foxtrot Games
- For those who don’t know, can you tell us a bit about Foxtrot Games?
Certainly! Foxtrot Games is a board game publishing company that I started with Tyler Segel. We have run three successful Kickstarter campaigns so far. The campaign for our first game, Relic Expedition, ended just over three years ago; that was a game that I designed and for which Tyler did the artwork. Our second game, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival, has been out for about a year now. Last month, we finished delivering rewards to backers for our third game, World’s Fair 1893.
Our goal has always been to publish beautiful, engaging, and approachable board games. We’re aiming for games that people will play with their kids and also with their significant other or other grown-up friends after they put their kids to bed. Games like this also tend to work well as lighter games that open or close an evening of heavier gaming.
- Lanterns: The Harvest Festival was a success on kickstarter and continues to be a success. What were some of the trials and tribulations of publishing lanterns and what have you experienced from its success?
Lanterns has been relatively smooth sailing. I learned a lot from the “trials and tribulations” of my first campaign (Relic Expedition), and those lessons shaped the Lanterns campaign. Build an audience before a Kickstarter campaign. Get third-party reviews. Finalize the box cover early. Playtest with final artwork. Quadruple check all the production files. Simplify and streamline the rewards as much as possible. Have a plan for selling extra inventory before you launch. All those lessons made the second campaign a much smoother (and more profitable!) experience.
The success since the campaign has honestly been more than I had dared to plan on. After the campaign, I met Scott Gaeta of Renegade Game Studios and agreed to co-publish the game with him. His industry expertise and connections gave the game a better chance to find its audience than I could have given it at this early stage in my publishing career, and I’m delighted that it has done so well.
When you are as new at something as I am at board game publishing, each new success gets you over a hurdle to experience a new aspect of it. Getting your first campaign funded gives you the opportunity to deal with manufacturing and fulfillment. Getting tens of thousands of people reading your rulebook and playing your game gives you insight into little things that could be improved. (We’re doing a fourth printing of Lanterns now that includes a few small changes to the wording in the rulebook, the components, and the packaging.) We believe we have enough market demand for an expansion, and we’re developing one now. We have a company making a mobile app, and it’s been fascinating to participate in the testing for that.
- We had a chance to try out World’s Fair 1893 and it was a lot of fun. What part did you have in the making of this game and how long did it take for this board game to be completed from idea into final product?
Thanks! I’ve had a lot of fun playing it and working on it. The designer (J. Alex Kevern) pitched the game to me to consider it for publication, and I loved it and wanted to publish it. I had two main roles on the project:
(1) As the lead game developer, I led a wide playtesting effort. I watched a lot of different people play the game, and I processed a lot of feedback. I worked closely with Alex to make changes to the game play that would make the game the best it could be. We ended up simplifying some things, strengthening the connections between different elements, and focusing the game play on the most fun aspects of it.
(2) As the game producer and project manager, I coordinated all the work by the other people involved in the process. I commissioned and directed all the artwork and graphic design (by Beth Sobel and Adam P. McIver) for all the components and packaging. I worked with an editor (Dustin Schwartz) to write the rulebook, made changes to the text after blind playtests, and worked with a graphic designer (Jason D. Kingsley) for the rulebook layout and examples. (I also did the historical research and wrote the text for the cards. I was a liberal arts major in college, and it’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to use those skills!)
Before Alex pitched me the game, he had been working on the game about 9 months. He and I had worked together on it for another 10 months or so before we launched the Kickstarter campaign for it. We’re releasing the game to retail this month; altogether, it’s been around 2-2½ years from Alex’s first prototype to this retail release.
- We’ve worked with Randy since the very beginning of Indietabletop, I’ve known him to be a really easy going guy. We’d like to get to know you a little bit more Randy; what got you into the tabletop world?
Like most people working in the industry, I have played games my whole life. Hungry Hungry Hippos was the first game I ever loved. That gave way to games like Yahtzee and Clue, which gave way to games like Risk and Axis & Allies, which eventually led me to all the great modern hobby games.
There were two big turning points that led to me doing work in the industry:
(1) I came across the Project Gipf games in college, as they were being released. Interviews with the designer (Kris Brum) really got me thinking about game design. I had designed some games as a kid, but this was the first time I really considered that the games I enjoyed had been created by other real human beings.
(2) A friend sent me a link to Dice Hate Me Games’ first Kickstarter campaign (Carnival), and I backed it. The campaign video excited me about bringing my own games to market, and Kickstarter provided a seemingly manageable way for me to do that. A year later, I had a fun prototype playtesting really well, and I started working with Tyler on the Kickstarter campaign to publish it as our first game (Relic Expedition).
- What are some of your favorite mechanics in a game?
For me, playing games is not about the specific mechanisms; it’s about the experience that they produce. There are some worker placement games and some card drafting games I like, for example, but there are others that I don’t like. But if you were to look through the games I love the most to see if they had any shared mechanism, I suppose it would be fair to say that I love games with set collection: all three of the games I have published so far rely on it heavily!
There are so many different ways to do set collection. I love that in Coloretto you only want cards in three different colors, which means your opponents can mix cards you want with cards you don’t want. I love that in Ingenious and in Tigris & Euphrates it’s easy to collect many items of the same color on one turn but that you really want complete sets of all the colors. I love in 7 Wonders that the biggest point potential is from cards that aren’t worth much on their own but that gain in value as you collect similar cards — or a full set of different cards. I love that in Pandemic you could draw matching cards at the end of your turn or you could spend actions to get them from other players and then use them a turn earlier. These games all use a similar mechanism to create very different experiences.
- What is the day in the life of a game publisher?
I have a full-time job as a software developer, so I rarely get to spend a whole day as a game publisher. It really depends on the day and the stage of the project we’re in. On a typical week day, I might wake up and answer some emails or package up an order (for a game) or a support request (for a replacement part of some kind). After working at my day job in the morning, I might come home over my lunch break to take a phone call with an artist, solo playtest part of a game, or place a prototype print order with FedEx Office or Print & Play Games. After working in the afternoon, I’ll spend the evening with my wife and kids. After bedtime, I might go to a playtesting event, answer more emails, work on prototype files, collaborate with a designer over a video conference, or any number of other publisher tasks.
I use a lot of internet software to make all this remote collaboration possible. Google Docs and Google Sheets have both been essential: Beth and I kept track of all the artwork for World’s Fair 1893 cards with just a shared spreadsheet. Right now, I’m experimenting with an app called Podio for project management, data collection, and discussion: I really like it so far! I do use Google Hangout and Skype, but I often just need to share audio: Vylo.org works really well for that. There are a few ways to play games online with other people: Roll20 isn’t the flashiest tool, but it’s the one I’ve used the most so far and really enjoy it for prototypes.
- What direction do you think board gaming will go in the future? Do you see an integration with technology?
I wasn’t originally excited about board games using mobile apps: Alchemists and X-COM were the first big ones to do that back in 2014. But I really enjoyed how the app in Alchemists keeps track of private information, and that has made me much more open to the possibilities. Fuse has a really cool timer app: you don’t need it (any old kitchen timer will work), but it really creates a strong sense of atmosphere. I expect we’ll see more and more games try optional companion apps like that.
I think the story of last year (2015) was stronger narrative in board games. I think we’ll continue to see people experimenting with legacy and other forms of campaign persistence. I’ve been excited to see the market opening up to games with a limited number of plays: I think designers can craft really powerful experiences in games without the constraint of infinite replayability. I had a lot of fun years ago with the old “How To Host A Murder” games, and I’ve been hopeful we’d see people experimenting with modern games using a similar model.
- What do you enjoy the most about the tabletop design community?
I’m an introvert, and I don’t really thrive in large groups. I played modern hobby games for a long time without feeling like part of a larger community. But in recent years, since I’ve been creating games seriously, I have spent time with some really wonderful people. Creative work in general can be very lonely, and interacting with others doing similar work has been incredibly encouraging and inspiring. Some of my closest friends in the world are people I’ve met in the last few years through this community. I always look forward to spending long stretches of time with other designers: dedicated working sessions, road trips, or designer-specific events like Unpub.
Most board game creators genuinely love playing games and seeing other people have fun. I suppose creating board games isn’t lucrative enough or prestigious enough to attract people interested primarily in fame or fortune. There’s an enthusiastic and helpful spirit: so many people share their time, information, and experience through blog posts and on forums. There’s a sense of purpose, an understanding that bringing more fun into the world is important work — but also a light-hearted humility that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
- Any life advice for our readers?
Wow, I’m not sure I have enough wisdom or experience to give other people life advice. Perhaps this: “Always be kind”? That feels really important and really hard: it’s something that I too often forget — and always regret when I do.
Perhaps I’m qualified to give some advice about working on creative projects while having a family and a full-time job. My main advice for people in that situation: do a little bit of work on your creative project every day. Paint a little, write a little, playtest a little, whatever it is you want to create. It’s tempting to spend days, months, even years thinking about your project, but you have to jump in and start making something. You can only get so far just thinking: once you start creating something, you’ll see new problems or encounter new hurdles. Working a little bit each day, you can get over those hurdles, find new ones, work through those, and slowly but surely start making progress. That progress can exhilarate you and inspire you to keep going. It takes time to make a new habit, and I encourage people to start working today.
- If you can have any superpower, what would it be? and why?
That’s a tough one: “with much power comes great responsibility” and all that. I would probably go with time travel. We humans are so shaped by the time and place in which we live: our thoughts, feelings, biases, etc. Many people recommend traveling to other places to expand your horizons and grow as a person, and I can only imagine that traveling to other times would amplify that. I have loved a wide variety of books and movies with time travel in them: About Time (a romantic comedy), Heroes (the first season was great!), The Prisoner of Azkaban (I want a time-turner), and Back to the Future. These explore the idea of time travel in wildly different ways from each other. I don’t know if I could fight crime or save the world, but I’d at least be a time tourist. And the first time/place I’d visit would (of course) be the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.