This time Tabletopia talks to Ryan Laukat, the founder and president of the Red Raven Games as well as the designer and illustrator of many great games, including City of Iron, Above and Below, Eight-Minute Empire Legends, Artifacts Inc., Islebound, and more.
In the interview we’ve found out about when Ryan started drawing and making games, what he thinks about Legacy games, what are his favorite board games, and a lot of details about his upcoming game Near and Far, which was a massive success on Kickstrater and is now available to play on Tabletopia! Some questions were asked by Tabletopia users.
Designing and Playing Board Games
When and why did you start designing board games?
I started designing board games when I was twelve years old. I wanted to create a card game with fantasy creatures, and drew the creatures on the cards with colored pencil. I liked the idea of being able to create an immersive setting using both artwork and game mechanics.
Where do your first ideas for new board games usually come from? What inspires you while you’re working on a game?
Much of my inspiration comes from old video games. I played lots of SNES [Super Nintendo Entertainment System] games and many point-and-click Lucas Arts titles, and love the bright worlds these places created in my imagination. I also play as many board games as I can, and draw mechanical inspiration from my favorites. When I create a new game, my goal is to explore a new setting and create a new, immersive world.
Do you work on one game at a time or have a lot of games in different stages?
I have many games in various stages, but I usually focus heavily on one after it reaches 50 percent of development.
Which of your already released games is your darling child? Is there a game you would like to improve or make changes to?
I have a soft spot for City of Iron. I really like the setting and I find I can play the game many times and still find something new. I would like to revise Empires of the Void, my first published game, as I think I could make something better.
By the way, the revised second edition of City of Iron was released only a couple of years after the first edition. These days many other authors and publishers also revise their games shortly after release. What can be the reason for this tendency?What did the second edition of City of Iron let you accomplish as the game’s author? (KoGe)
I’d like to avoid it in general. In the case of City of Iron, the game was out of print and there was a big demand for it, but my skills as an artist had grown quite a bit in only a few years and I wanted to clean up a few things.
Small publishers have very limited time and money, and it is nigh impossible to iron out every wrinkle for the first release, especially if the game has any level of complexity. Video game developers, in fact, do this much more than board game developers, but it isn’t as noticeable because they can release updates in patches.
If board game developers could release a “beta” version of their game just before release to thousands of players, revised later editions would not be as common.
Everyone knows Monopoly almost a hundred years after its release. For many people in many countries it’s “The Boardgame”. What do you think about it? Would you want for any of your games to become the “modern Monopoly” in terms of worldwide renown? (serfalinskiy)
I actually have a lot of fond memories playing Monopoly as a child with my cousins and grandparents. I think the important thing about the game was that it got is all together in fun, social atmosphere. Of course, having one of my games become so successful would be very exciting.
What are the 3 games you play most? (serfalinskiy) Do you have favorite game designers and games? (AASever)
Race for the Galaxy, Agricola, City of Iron. I like Uwe Rosenberg’s games. I like many Reiner Knizia titles.
Upcoming Games and Projects
Are there any games in the making that you could tell us something about?
I’m currently working on Empires of the Void 2nd Edition. This will be quite different from the original game, mechanically speaking. We could name it something else, but decided to keep the name because it is a 4x game and it is set in the same universe as the first game.
Do you have any news for your Russian fans? Can we expect any of your newest games to be released in Russia? (ZoRDoK)
I have been working to localize a few more of my games in Russia, but have no announcements for now.
Illustrations and Style
What do you enjoy most: inventing mechanics for your games or illustrating them?
I actually enjoy both aspects equally. One of my favorite things is to design the concept for a game on a sheet paper, filling it up with ideas and working it out in my mind, cutting and revising when necessary. It is a great way to keep me occupied when I am in a boring meeting or waiting for something.
Your game illustrations are unique, your style immediately stands out and is often compared to the works of Hayao Miyazaki. When did you start drawing? Are there any artists that have influenced your style? Who are your favourite illustrators or artists? (AASever)
I can remember getting scolded in grade school for drawing on my assignments instead of balancing equations. The most influential artists for me have been Paul Kidby, Peter Chan, Bill Watterson, and of course, Hayao Miyazaki.
Red Raven Games and Publishing Games
You’re not just a game designer, you’re also the owner of Red Raven Games. What made you want to create your own company?
Also, why is the raven red? Is there any kind of story behind this name?
I created Red Raven Games so I could publish my own games, and so I could have final say on everything, from theme to art to mechanisms. The red raven comes from a fantasy story I wrote a few years ago. It is a guide to travelers.
What’s the hardest part about running your own publishing company?
The most difficult part is dealing with the day-to-day business and communication demands. They take lots of time away from working on the games, which is what I love doing! Also, running a company is emotionally demanding, and requires a thick skin.
You’ve recently illustrated and pubished Dingo’s Dreams, a game by Alf Seegert. Does it mean that Red Raven Games plans on publishing more games by other authors in the future?
We plan to publish another game by Alf Seegert called Haven. It is a two-player, tug-of-war card game where one player is the mystical forest defending its home, and the other is the mechanical city, hungry for the resources of the forest.
We still plan to mostly publish my game designs in the future, but if we find a game we like from another designer, we’re certainly open to publishing it. We are currently not taking submissions at this time, however.
Modern Technologies and Digital Board Games
What do you think about modern technologies being integrated into board games? How do you feel about digital board games on the whole? Do you play them? Do you plan on making games that use electronic devices as a part of gameplay? (Desert_witch)
I like the idea, and I used Tabletopia quite a bit to playtest Islebound. I am not as excited about integrating apps with a physical game and plan to avoid it if possible. I like the idea of the game not having to rely on modern technology.
You’ve spent a lot of time testing your games on Tabletopia. What do you think about this platform? What are some main pros of Tabletopia and digital board games you can name?
It is very clean and easy to use. One reason I used it to test Islebound was because it was so easy to find playtesters, at any time of the day, and from any part of the world.
Questions about Near and Far
Your Near and Far campaign has been a massive success. Did you expect it? What might be the reason for the its success? (GariRUS)
Your games Above and Below and now Near and Far (by the way really cool naming!) both include storytelling as a major part. What made you turn to this genre and want to integrate it into a eurostyle game? Was it more fun designing than your previous non-storytelling games?
My main goal as a designer has been to incorporate euro-mechanics into a thematic gaming experience. The mix of storybook and eurogame has been a great way to do this. Including a book makes the design much more difficult to complete, but it also allows me to create a more immersive setting.
Making the stories work with the mechanics, and give meaningful rewards, is a huge undertaking.
What is the difference in gameplay between Above and Below and Near and Far? (Panda8ngelcreations)
The mechanisms are completely different, except for the paragraph mechanics. The goal in Near and Far is to go on an epic journey, and become the most famous adventurer. There is no town building, etc.
Is there a recommended order in which to try the different game modes in Near and Far: First Adventure, Campaign, Story, etc.?(Corrydamey)
I recommend playing “First Adventure” first, of course. After that, either Story or Campaign mode would be good, followed by some of the other modes.
Lately the Legacy system has been taking the board gaming world by storm with more and more games released that feature this system. As far as I understand, Near and Far offers a Legacy experience as well, with its campaigns and stories that spread over a series of games. What do you think about the Legacy mechanic on the whole? Do you plan on making more games of this kind? What is so appealing in the Legacy system for both designers and players, in your opinion? (Desert_witch)
So far, I like the idea of Legacy mechanisms. My goal with Near and Far was to make it so that the game was forever replayable, so it only has light “legacy-style” elements, and is more of a campaign game.
One of the great appeals of “legacy” elements is that it gets players invested in the long-term outcome, and invites multiple plays. Video games have been doing this for over thirty years. It is only recently that board games have caught up.
Thanks a lot, Ryan! We wish you many productive days and many more games created and published. And to all the Tabletopians, happy gaming and see you at the table!