In-depth interview with Daniel Solis, on one of his newest card games, I Can’t Even With These Monsters.
Daniel first off thanks for agreeing to do this interview. We are here today to talk about your game; I Can’t Even With These Monsters, which has recently popped up on DriveThruCards. Could you tell us a little bit about what of game it is and give us an overview on how it is played?
Daniel: It’s the first in a series of casual card games that are each standalone, but cross-compatible with each other. The one rule they have in common is that only the highest odd numbered score wins the game. So even if in a four-player game the scores are 20, 18, 16, and 1. The player with 1 point would win!
What is the story behind the game’s creation and how did the whole your final score must be odd come about?
Daniel: Initially, I was working on a set collection mechanism where you scored points for odd quantities of particular types of resources. However, I just came off a long streak of designing games with set collection and especially endgame scoring mechanisms. I wanted to challenge myself with designing a game that had no endgame scoring.
This worked very well for my game. The “odd” rule means that everyone is on the brink of victory or defeat at all times. Everyone has a chance!
It’s so important to keep track of your score and everyone else’s score throughout the game. Any type of hidden scoring felt like an unwelcome surprise and frustrated more strategic players. Players liked knowing exactly where they stood compared to their opponents.
Did any games influence you when you were creating I Can’t Even With These Monsters?
Daniel: I was really inspired by a game called Why First? by Simon Havard. I love it when a game takes one simple core assumption, flips it upside-down, and structures the whole experience around that. In Why First? the idea is that the player in second place scores each round and at the end of the game, the player with second-most points wins. This one concept is so tricky to play around that it didn’t need anything else to complicate the game. It’s so lovely and pure, I wanted to try making a game with those same principles.
How did the decision to have each player lay out 1 face-up card and 1 face-down card came about (instead of say 2 face up cards) and what does it add to the gameplay?
Daniel: I’m a big fan of the poison wine scenario from Princess Bride. I wanted a version of that tension here without the high stakes. By combining this with a drafting element, I also mitigated the luck of the draw from early setup. If a card is good enough for you to want to score from it, then it’s probably good enough for an opponent to take. Do you put it out there face-up and hope to put out something even better face-down? It’s a nice decision to make each turn.
The monsters score after putting them in your personal “bank”, each monster even has “powers” that match their character in thematic way. Like werewolves liking to be in packs or mummies become more valuable over time. Was this a conscience decision when you were designing what monsters went into the game?
Daniel: This was very much a conscious decision. I wanted the theme of each monster to make sense with its method of scoring, so it quickly becomes second nature. That’s also why I kept the whole deck format very simple: Seven monsters, each appearing seven times. It makes card counting simple for new players.
Speaking of scoring/powers. There is some very interesting scoring ideas in the game like how Vampires or Mummies (mentioned above) score. Do you have a favorite one when it comes just to the effect of the card in this set of I Can’t Even?
Daniel: I really like the Blob. At the high-end, it gives you absurdly high scores which makes it a persistent lurking threat. As such, there ends up being a bit of negotiation as to who will be the one to deny the Blob player that card. It’s too powerful to ignore, but still weak enough early on that you can usually sneak in one or two into your bank.
So, you mentioned that I Cant Even is a series with each game being compatible with each other, letting players mix and match cards from different sets, correct?
Daniel: Yep! They’ll all be designed to be cross-compatible with each other. You can shuffle two or more decks together for epic games. That means some effects might be diminished, while others are stronger. I’ll hope players enjoy exploring that part of the game with their friends.
Those that follow you on Twitter may have seen you are currently playtesting I Can’t Even With These Superheroes. Can you give us any sneak peak when it comes to gameplay to this one?
Daniel: Yes! With each deck, I’m trying to have a unifying mechanical theme. In this one, it’s all about team-ups and buddies working together. I can’t go into more detail yet, but it’ll be really cool to see how this interacts with the Monsters and future sets, too.
When you were still prototyping I Can’t Even With These Monsters, what was the best piece of feedback you received from a playtester?
Daniel: There wasn’t specific feedback to me exactly. My favorite thing was how players interacted with each other. When I finally started testing a prototype that had no endgame scoring, it was a relief to see players laughing and smiling each turn. Victory felt great and a loss always felt like a close one. I like games that facilitate those smirking glances and playful smack talk across the table.
For you personally, as the designer, what was the most interesting design choice you had to make when designing the game?
Daniel: Aside from the choice not to have endgame scoring in this set, it was simultaneous scoring.
I knew I wanted a fast game and simultaneous turns helped facilitate that. That meant coming up with seven different effects that had to always work simultaneously with each other, without confusing rules conflicts. That was tough! I have a long list of other effects that I discarded in the process of narrowing down these seven.
What is your litmus test, if you have any, as to what scoring was simple enough to make it into the game and what others where not right fit or too complicated?
Daniel: I wanted most of the effects to be easy enough to explain in under a minute. Ideally under 30 seconds, with one that took a bit longer to elaborate upon. If you look at the video tutorial, the Vampire takes longer to explain than any of the others. I’m okay with one outlier in the mix since it helps add a bit of tension to the overall game. But that meant any others had to be utterly simple and tie into their theme.
[Editors Note: The YouTube tutorial video can be viewed at the start of the interview]
Do you have a favorite bank scoring that didn’t make it into the game that you really hope makes it into a future game at some point?
Daniel: I have a long list of effects in a Google doc ready to find a home with a particular deck. I try not to get too attached to one effect in isolation though. They all have to interact well with each other and complement each other’s play styles.
That said, I want to work in card into the Superhero set that’s inspired by Ant-Man/Giant-Man. The idea is that he’d grow or shrink, scoring you points or losing you points based on a particular criterion. I’m still settling on those details though. Much like the Ghost, I like the idea of a dual-natured effect that has to be timed correctly to be effective.
You have mentioned a couple times about there is no end game scoring – just end of each round. Why did you decide to do this?
Daniel: Mainly I’d been using it as a crutch for a while. I was so focused on making a clever endgame scoring that I had been ignoring the actual mid-game experience. I’m not completely abandoning endgame scoring. It may even appear in future editions of I Can’t Even. I just didn’t want to use it this time around. This game already has small surprises each turn, so one big surprise endgame scoring phase would’ve been one too many.
What was the most challenging part of designing I Can’t Even With These Monsters?
Daniel: Because this was the first game in the series, a lot rode on introducing the basic concepts and tactics. I wanted to keep the effects simple, but also suggest new directions the series could take in the future. That meant not just coming up with these seven powers, but planning ahead five or six decks in advance to see how those decks may interact with each other in the long term. The other decks are still in various stages of development, but I felt confident these seven would be a nice gateway.
What has been your favorite part or experience so far when it comes to your journey with the I Can’t Even series?
Daniel: Art! I’ve met a lot of great artists over the years and it’s nice to have a game brand that can accommodate all sorts of art styles and themes. I look forward to inviting lots of different artists to work on the series.
When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the most proud that you designed I Can’t Even with These Monsters?
Daniel: I’m proud to return to my roots in print-on-demand self-publishing with an admittedly ambitious venture here. Putting together the new tuck box packaging, tutorial videos, and other peripheral materials took a lot of work. It’s an investment in the future though! I hope the I Can’t Even series has a long success ahead. I can only keep working and hoping!
If you had to describe I Can’t Even With These Monsters in 3 adjectives, what would you choose?
You have really become a season pro when it comes to making card games. Do you think you will ever make a big box board game or do a game without cards like a tile layer or dice game, or are you content exactly where you are?
Daniel: I’m working on a tile game with Drew Hicks for Greater Than Games. I also have a pixel-themed “sprite-building” game with Graham Russell that we’d love to see published in a bigger box.
As we wrap this up, is there anything else you would like to add?
Daniel: Just find out more about my games at smartplaygames.com!
Thank you Daniel, both for your time and to agreeing to do this interview.
If you like a copy of I Can’t Even With These Monsters you can be taken to its order page by clicking on this link.