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Interviews Tabletop

Interview with Richard Garfield: Designer of Magic: the Gathering and King of Tokyo

Richard Garfield Talks About Cooperative King of Tokyo, Bunny Kingdom’s Release, and Reflections on Solforge and Netrunner

Richard Garfield originally came to fame for designing Magic: the Gathering in the early 90s, which had a huge impact on my own personal life, as I played the game exclusively for well over a decade. Recently, he’s had an excellent partnership with publisher IELLO since 2011’s King of Tokyo was a huge success, leading to several expansions and spinoffs. Now, they are partnering again for Bunny Kingdoma drafting game with a cutesy theme. And it turns out there’s more King of Tokyo to follow as well…read on to find out!

The last time we spoke, King of Tokyo had just come out. Since then, the game has completely blown up, spawning many expansions and a standalone game, King of New York. Where do you see the future of the brand going? Will we get another style of expansion beyond power-ups, or another standalone game? What do you still hope to see happen with the game?

I have been working with IELLO on a cooperative King of Tokyo experience, where players are working together—as monsters—to defeat an alien invader. The earth is the monster’s playground, not some outsider’s! Outside of that, I expect more monsters to populate this colorful world that IELLO has created, and perhaps more cards, they are always good fun.

 

I know you weren’t involved much in the reboot of Netrunner, but do you have thoughts on its progress as a “lifestyle game” over the past five years?

I am quite pleased it is alive and well. The game didn’t change much mechanically, but it is better suited for a living card game than a trading card game. I have always liked the mechanics of Netrunner—with Magic, it sometimes felt like the cards played you, but with Netrunner, the players were more in control. I am also fond of any game where bluffing is front and center.

While King of Tokyo and Netrunner have exploded, my understanding is that SolForge was sold off by Stone Blade Entertainment. What happened there? What lessons did you learn, if any, about digital game design?

My involvement with SolForge wasn’t that large, and I didn’t really learn much new from the experience. I have known for a long time computer games are a finicky pursuit, and am always skeptical about the free-to-play standards that abound in the industry. While there are clearly successes, I believe many of them prey on vulnerable users rather than simply providing excellent gameplay for money. I would stand behind the game design of SolForge. However, I think it was well designed and its failures were from other sources. Failing games are bought for many reasons in the computer game industry—for technology, access to users, or brand awareness for example. I know the folk that bought the game and they did it because they believed in the design.

Bunny Kingdom was just released from IELLO. As I understand it, this game spent several years in development. What’s changed since the original design? What were the most difficult changes to make?

Bunny Kingdom was originally Dwarven Roads, and was taken by a publisher who did not print it for two years—after which Seven Wonders came out and they felt that drafting games were done. I still believed in Dwarven Roads, however, and when I showed it to IELLO they agreed to publish it. The biggest change to the game in the intervening years has been to the flavor, which went several different ways before we ended up with Paul Mafayon’s beautiful bunnies. It was even an ant colony game at one point. I would say choosing the theme was the most difficult part of the publishing process. It took a long time before everyone was on board with the theme.

Mechanically the game got a little simpler in a variety of ways. Drafting two cards a turn rather than one, for example, sped the game up and made it a lot easier to draft cards that go together. At first I thought of this change as a rule just for beginners, but quickly found I just found the game more fun that way.

What’s your favorite card or favorite strategy in Bunny Kingdom?

I am a sucker for overextending myself with the parchments. My favorite parchment is the one that gives you 10 points if you are in second place. It used to be called, “Soooo close…”—I forget what it is called now. For ages it never swung a game I played, but recently it decided two games in a row, and the person who won didn’t even have the card, they copied it using Socialist!

I couldn’t help but notice that the player aid for Bunny Kingdom had a multiplication table on it. When designing a game, how do you decide how much mathematics (and computation, in particular) is enough, too little, or too much? How much does accessibility (of all types) play into your game design process?

Generally I would keep the computation to a minimum, only letting it into the game when it really pays off. Here, a lot of the appeal of the game is the fact you can get huge empire scores, and so there will be some computation. None of my play group, which had a wide variety of seriousness and age as players, ever needed a multiplication chart, and understood the scoring fairly quickly. In fact, the more burdensome part is the end where you are adding up your parchments values. Adding a bunch of random numbers, which is very common in games, is often more burdensome than multiplication.

What can you tell us about the upcoming SpyNet from Z-Man?

It is a game that is based on a style of drafting I came up with in the 90s, called the “Winston Draft.” The draft has hidden information and pressing your luck built into it. It plays very well with 2, but where it really shines is teams of 2. You and your partner know different things and are allowed to communicate only by occasional card passes.

[Interviewer’s Note: I used to draft Magic with this method regularly, so this is exciting to see!]

Geeks Under Grace is a faith-based site. Do you think faith or worldview has an effect on the way players approach board gaming, or on the way designers approach game design? Should it?

Absolutely. Different cultures and different worldviews resonate with different game mechanics and flavors. This is far too big a subject to touch on more than lightly—but it also works the other way; a lot of the appeal of games is the way players can safely try out different environments and experiment within them safely.

What have you been reading/watching/playing/listening to/enjoying lately?

I have been reading some books my wife gave me for my birthday—some Mark Twain and Marcus Aurelius. I have also been reading Seven Eves, by one of my favorite authors, Neal Stephenson. I have been watching Rick and Morty, and Better Call Saul. I have been playing Werewords and Dreamquest. I have been listening to Randy Newman. I have been enjoying our almost three-month-old twins.

Thanks to Richard for the great interview, and to IELLO for setting it up!

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Reviews Tabletop

Review: Bunny Kingdom

Designers: Richard Garfield
Artist: Paul Mafayon
Publisher: IELLO
Category: Drafting Game, Strategy Game
Player Count: 2-4
Price: $49.99
Richard Garfield first made a splash with the incredibly popular Magic: The Gathering, a game hugely popular over twenty years later (and a personal favorite of mine). But he’s also done many other games, and had another hit with 2011’s King of Tokyo from IELLO. Designer and publisher have teamed up again for Bunny Kingdom, a card-drafting game with a board where players claim territories. Let’s check it out!

Content Guide

Characters—bunnies—carry weapons, wear armor, and look pretty intimidating, but there’s no actual violence shown anywhere in the game. Players don’t attack each other, apart from an occasional corner case. The art is presented in a light, cartoony style.

Review

Bunny Kingdom had me interested right away for several reasons—brilliant designer, reputable publisher, and wonderful artwork. Let’s start with the production values, both good and bad. Paul Mafayon’s artwork is absolutely fantastic, as you can see right on the cover. The cards generally have very little text, making room for gorgeous illustrations that take up almost the entire space of the card. Players also have bunny meeples for their troops, which are disgustingly cute, and they fit neatly into the plastic city tokens that show each fief’s growing strength. However, the board is an issue. It’s just too dang small. Once bunnies, tokens, and cities take over the relatively small board, it becomes very difficult to count up your victory points for each round.
Victory points each round are actually scored in a somewhat strange way. Each connected region of your bunnies (fief) scores by its strength (towers on cities) multiplied by the number of different resources produced there, not the total amount. There are often times where expanding a fief won’t score you any extra points, and even times it’s better to keep fiefs separate, which can feel odd. But mostly, it’s just hard to see and count up each round, and even to multiply. As a math teacher, I was kind of appalled to see a multiplication table on the player aid, but then we got a little lost ourselves trying to do 53 + 14×4 + 3×7+ … without writing anything down—scores go very high in this game. Additionally, endgame scoring from parchments is often just as much, if not more, than the in-game score, which again feels odd. It keeps players invested to the end since no one’s clearly ahead, but it also means that there is a ridiculous amount of accounting to do once the fun part of the game is over.
What’s the fun part of the game? Ah, I forgot how to explain how to actually put things on that tiny board! The meat of the game is players drafting cards (10-12) each over four rounds. Cards can claim territories, or give special buildings for extra resources or extra strength, or give end-game victory points. And since resources are for victory points, not for building requirements (and buildings actually can always be drafted, then built later as needed), every card is a reasonable option. This isn’t like 7 Wonders, where in Age II or III you already know you can’t build half the hand and are really only picking from a few cards. In Bunny Kingdom, all cards are good all the time, which is what makes it unique. These are incredibly tough decisions! And that is a super fun thing to experience, but it also means you’re bound to have players with some analysis paralysis, worse than usual. I’m also a little worried that because most cards are very basic and similar (e.g. 100 of the 182 cards are just coordinates for the board), that the game will begin to feel too much of the same after a while, and I’m feeling a little bit of that already.
This sounds like I’m coming down really hard on Bunny Kingdom, but I actually really enjoyed myself playing. The general consensus after each play was, “I had fun, I’d play again, but I wouldn’t suggest it.” The functionality issues—the tiny board, the tedious scoring, the analysis paralysis—keep the game from top marks. However, it’s quick, it’s gorgeous, and the “everything is amazing” style drafting is an awful lot of fun.
Thank you to IELLO for providing a review copy of Bunny Kingdom.