Monday, March 21, 2011

10+4 BG Questions with Sean Ross about "Haggis"

I am starting a new section/type of post today. It's essentially an 'interview' with a game designer. Without going into too much behind-the-scenes thinking (as that isn't the focus here), I thought it would be fun to ask game designers some questions electronically and then post their responses and maybe throw in some other related information if it's relevant.

I initially thought 20 or 25 questions, but when coming up with a list of questions it seemed a bit too long and unwieldy. I also had the idea of doing maybe 20 questions + 5 follow-up questions, but again, too many. So, I then thought 10+5 questions might be good (not too many, but then enough to do good follow-up). However, I couldn't think of a good name for what I would call this 'type' of interview. Magazines often have a "10 questions with the author" sort of thing so how do I do this and be a little different at the same time?

So, I came up with "10+4 BG (Board Game)" questions which is bit of a play on "10-4 Good Buddy" for CB radio speak. Not that I'm into CB radio or anything and not that it even makes sense in terms of CB radio slang, but there you have it. I have no intention of extending the relation further than that. What is does ultimately do, though, is force me to ask (hopefully) interesting and diverse questions and then 4 focused follow-up questions looking for more specific detail or expanding on something mentioned in the previous 10 answers.

Well, we'll see how successful this is, but I like the concept at least. Something else I didn't expect was how many MORE questions I ended up wanting to ask after the initial 10. And, as you will see, I cheated a little bit here asking 2 questions in one in a couple of cases, and asking extra follow-up questions to other individuals. So much for structure, but rules are meant to be broken, right? Let's just say it's a 'variant' :)

Why Haggis and Sean Ross for your first 10+4 BG feature?
Well, a couple of reasons, the most obvious being that I just got Haggis, I have enjoyed the game so far and am excited about it but didn't know much about the background. Secondarily, I hadn't seen any formal interviews with Sean specifically about Haggis although Travis did an Essen video overview of the rules. Also, I did a review of Haggis recently and thought it might be nice to follow up with an 'interview' of sorts and, if it goes well, I can maybe continue the trend for other games as well.

Obviously (as you will see) I should have looked around on a bit more as there was a lot of intrinsic information from Sean posting the original rules and effectively redesigning parts of it interactively with other BGG members via forum posts. But even that sort of information doesn't necessarily get to the essence that some questions might elicit.

So, without further delay, here are the 10+4 questions (+ extras from Travis Worthington, publisher, and Gary Simpson, game artist):

QUESTION 1: Where did you get the idea for Haggis and why did you pursue it?
SEAN: For many years I'd been wanting to find a two player traditional card game, other than Cribbage, that I would really enjoy playing. I'd researched all of the games at many times over, but I didn't really find what I was looking for.

My search then led me to BGG where I discovered a whole world of games I hadn't known existed. I began learning everything I could and continued searching for that two player game I'd been wanting. Along the way, I discovered Tichu. Even before I played it, I knew it would be amazing. And I very much wanted to play it.

But, at the time, I had almost no opportunities to play games of any kind that would take more than two players. So, I started looking into the two player variants that had been made for Tichu, while also revisiting the two player versions of any and all of the other climbing card games I'd encountered during my research. Nothing satisfied me.

The beginning of the development of Haggis began at that point, back in September of 2005. I played a modified version of Jeremy Friesen's two player variant of Tichu back then - I was already trying to change it before I'd even played it. I asked in the BGG forums if anyone knew of a climbing game that was good to play with two players. There was very little response and what little there was did not indicate that such a thing existed. Larry Levy, however, went out of his way and designed a game (Teech for Two) that he posted at While I enjoyed Larry's game, I found that I kept wanting to add things to it to make it a bit more "interesting".

At around the same time I finally got to play real Tichu (4 player) and that confirmed for me that this was the kind of game I wanted to be able to enjoy when there were only two players, not just 4. Three years later, I posted the first working version of the game that would be further refined into Haggis. That took another year.

[Haggis originally was called "逐步升级 (ZHUBU SHENGJI)", aka 'step-by-step raise the level', aka "Escalation". The name Haggis refers to a Scottish dish made of various sheep organs. Left over cards == left over sheep entrails. Nice.]

[NOTE: Sean sometimes wrote back in giant running paragraphs - stream of thought and all that I suppose. I decided to break out his large blocks into digestible paragraphs - however I did NOT change the content. Just in case Sean was wondering if he reads this...]

QUESTION 2: How much work was involved in developing Haggis?