The Recipe Behind Circled Sprouts and Diced Herbs

A new in-depth game interview from Ryan of The Inquisitive Meeple with Stephen Finn about Herbaceous Sprouts. A dice game coming from Pencil First Games for 2-4 players.

First off, thanks Steve, for agreeing to do this interview. I know you’re busy running the Kickstarter for the next in the Cosmic Run line – Cosmic Run Regeneration (Kickstarter link for those interested). Could you tell us a little bit about it and what it’s bringing to the Cosmic Run line?

Steve: Cosmic Run: Regeneration is a highly revised version of the original Cosmic Run, so it’s not really a new game in the same line, such as a new version of the first game of a 2-part series (the other being Cosmic Run: Rapid Fire).  What it is bringing is an improved gameplay of the original game with a bunch of new changes that add more interesting decisions and cut down more on luck. As it is a dice game, I like to find ways to mitigate the rolls. The game also now has much improved solo rules as well as a new co-op version that includes special unique powers for each player.  

Not counting games that you’ve been working on, what are some games that have been hitting your table lately?

Steve: Our playing group rarely plays the same game twice and we are constantly trying new games.  That said, I’ve been playing Quest for El Dorado quite a bit with my kids (who do often play games multiple times).  I also recently got Climbers, which has hit the table a number of times.

Besides the aforementioned Cosmic Run Regeneration, you actually have a second game on Kickstarter right now. That being,  Herbaceous Sprouts from Pencil First Games. Could you tell us about how this version of Herbaceous is played?

Steve: Well, technically, it’s a game that I designed, but Pencil First Games is in charge of the Kickstarter.  Herbaceous Sprouts is a standalone game that has many similarities from the original (set collection, push your luck, beautiful artwork) but adds a little more complexity.  My previous attempt at making a dice version of a game (i.e., Biblios Dice after Biblios) took a different path than most dice versions of games, which tend to be simpler and quicker versions of the original.  However, I’m following my own path of stepping the game up a notch in complexity. Sprouts, while still a gateway game, has more going on than Herbaceous. It adds a card/dice drafting mechanic in which you draft dice and tool cards.  The dice are the herb seeds and you use the tools to plant and grow the seeds. This version has more player interaction, insofar as players are competing over spots in a common garden, whereas players had their own gardens in the original game.  

One of the things Herbaceous Sprouts does for the 2 & 3-player game introduces “Rival Sprouts.” They are a way to simulate a 4-player game, by taking away spots on the main garden board and making it tighter, but without adding a dummy player. Was it important to you to figure out how to tighten the game without a dummy player? I ask because know some people really dislike dummy players.

Steve: I am always trying to make dummy players are simple and straightforward as possible.  I personally don’t like 2p games, for example, where one player plays 2 colors. It’s just too confusing.  I know a lot of my fans, for lack of a better word, like the fact that my games scale well for different player counts, so I’m always trying to make sure they work for all counts. And, if they don’t, I’m not afraid to limit the count rather than spoil the game (which I did for Cosmic Run: Rapid Fire, by limiting it to 1-2 players, when I originally thought of going higher).

During the game, you will be using tool cards to plant sprouts on the main board, etc. Some of the tools also introduce ways, to manipulate the dice, to help some with the “luck” of the roll. Do you think with how dice games have evolved in the hobby, that it is important to introduce ways to manipulate dice, when dealing with a non roll and write dice game?

Steve: A lot of people who play the games we play don’t like too much luck. Funnily, when I first started playing eurogames, I hated dice games precisely because I hate winning or losing strictly by the luck of the roll.  Now, as a designer, I’ve made many dice games. So, I’m always seeking ways to mitigate the luck element.

However, special actions are not just on the cards themselves, but there are also some on the dice themselves. Why did you decide to add some to the dice, instead of just leaving them strictly on the cards?

Steve: Mechanically, I wanted to keep the number of herbs to 5, so there’s a 6th side to a standard die, so I figured I’d add a special die.  At the same time, it’s fun to roll dice and have something special come up every so often.

This isn’t your first board game to dice version conversion. How do you approach making a dice version of an already established game?

Steve: Since this is only the second time I’ve done it, I’m not sure I have an approach.  These kinds of questions are hard for me to answer, as my approach is difficult to define.  After 15 games, I’ve taken many different approaches to game design, though certain basic principles always guide the process (e.g., how can I cut down on exceptions, streamline rules, create moments of excitement).

Was Herbaceous Sprouts more difficult for you to design than Herbaceous? And what was the most difficult part of the design on this new game?

Steve: Yes, it was.  I had to go down many different paths.  I knew dice would be involved, but would it be a turn-based game, simultaneous rolling, etc.  I’m not sure there is anything specific to say about this game. Some of my games pop out and work right away, while others involve going down numerous dead ends.  This fell into the latter camp for a reason I do not know.

When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the most proud that you designed Herbaceous Sprouts?

Steve: Well, to be honest, the best decision in this endeavor is being involved with Ed, Beth, Ben, Keith.  When looking at the finished product, it shines because of them.

Personal Player Boards

If you had to describe Herbaceous Sprouts in 3 adjectives, what would you choose?

Steve: Fun, interesting, beautiful

This is your 3rd Pencil First Games game, what has been your favorite thing about working with Edo and Pencil First?

Steve: Ed is a great check on my design process and he’s also given me great ideas about the presentation and aesthetics of the game.  Also, through the process, he contributes a lot of comments and criticisms and suggestions that end up making the game tighter and more interesting.

As a game designer, that has a few dice games published now, what advice would you have for those out there looking to design a dice game?

Steve: Possibly to avoid roll and writes soon.  I’m not sure if the wave is going to continue, but perhaps it will.  The other advice is to find interesting ways to use the dice.

If we see another game in this line, do you think it will be Sunset Over Water dice, another Herbaceous game with a new mechanic or something totally new?

Steve: Well, I already know that you will, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say anything about it yet, so I’ll leave you hanging.

As we wrap this up, is there anything else you would like to share with folks out there about Herbaceous Sprouts?

Steve: With Ed leading this Kickstarter campaign, you can be assured that you’re going to get a great product and, without being too overconfident, I think you’ll really enjoy the game, especially if you like the kinds of games I design.

Thanks for taking time out to do this interview. 

Stephen Finn can be found on Twitter @DrFinnsGames if you have any questions of your own. 

If you’re interested in checking out Herbaceous Sprouts on Kickstarter, you can do so by clicking on this link


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