Interview with the gang at Flatout Games about their game, Point Salad.
We are here today to talk to the meeples behind Flatout Games about their game Point Salad. However, before we get to it, let’s talk a little bit about Flatout Games itself – it is a sort of think tank for board game design. Could you tell us about the people behind it and how it all started?
Shawn: Ha! Yes, a think-tank, indeed! We started Flatout Games in early 2017 with the intention of getting together as friends to make board games. We didn’t really have any expectations, other than it is always easier and more fun to do things in groups, so from the outset, we were really focused on working collaboratively. We started with 4 members – all of us were friends who met at one point or another in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Molly: We’ve all been really into games for a long time. Robb and Shawn were roommates and had a small game collection. When I met Shawn it was one of the things we realized we had in common: a love of board games.
Shawn: I have always been interested in creating things. As a landscape architect, I have the opportunity to work within communities and help shape the built environment. Board game design gives me a more immediate outlet to do designs that have a really quick feedback loop. With games, you can have an idea and within a few hours be playing and enjoying it. Obviously, with landscape architecture projects, there is a more structured and lengthy process to seeing your design work come to fruition. When I started to design games, I really appreciated that I could apply my design skills in a different, more immediate way.
The four of us all liked playing games and had some interest in designing them, so we thought – why not!? Initially, the group included our friend Justin Ladia who is a graphic designer, but he left the group to focus on other projects fairly early on. Now, two years later we have a number of games signed to external publishers, we have started work on our own publishing projects, and have opened our doors to a larger collaborative effort called the ‘Co-Lab’. We are really interested in co-designs as well, and we are working on projects with Emma Larkins, David Iezzi, Rob Newton, Jeremy Davis, and Chad Martinell, just to name a few! The spirit of collaboration tends to breed really great ideas, so it’s a lot of fun to find people you like working with and try to find ways to play to each others’ strengths.
Robb: I grew up playing board games with my family and the love for games grew from that for sure. It had never even crossed my mind that designing games could be a reality until Shawn suggested forming Flatout Games.
How often does the group meet and test out games, and how do you go about deciding which game ideas from the three of you are worth playtesting, etc?
Shawn: It varies quite a bit. I’m in Seattle and I have a lot of support from the local community, so I am constantly designing, prototyping, playtesting, and iterating. We try to hop on calls every week in order to discuss where things are at. I generally have the initial concepts for games and run them by Molly and Robb so that we can discuss and brainstorm different directions that the game could go. It is important to meet regularly because sometimes we move pretty quickly through the design process, especially since we make pretty simple games.
Molly: Robb and Shawn can spend a lot of time talking about board games, when they aren’t talking about hockey. The Co-Lab uses Slack. I probably spend a lot of time being the theme police.
Robb: It’s a bit hard sometimes since the group is so split up physically, but we do brainstorm throughout the week and talk. I’m back here in Winnipeg, where the gaming community is a lot smaller, but there have been opportunities to playtest games with some of the local gamers.
The three of you have a game coming out real soon. That game is, of course, Point Salad, which is coming out this September from AEG. Could you tell us a little bit about the game and the gameplay?
Shawn: Point Salad is a card drafting and tableau-building game where players will be collecting ingredients for their salad in order to score the most points. The hook is that players are not only drafting their veggies, but also their scoring conditions. The challenge is finding synergy between the two.
Molly: It’s a fast, fun game that works well as a warm-up or filler but also a great game for families and as a light game for those who are maybe not quite so immersed in the hobby.
Robb: One commonality between the three of us when it comes to game preferences is “easy-to-learn but with a surprising amount of depth”. We think Point Salad really fits nicely in that mold.
What is the story behind the idea and the creation of Point Salad?
Shawn: Point Salad came about during a time when I was trying to design a game every week. We had just started weekly designer meetings and I was determined to get something new to the table every week. One week we were joking around about all of the punny-titled games out there – there were quite a few that Dice Hate Me put out a number of years ago – and we imagined that Point Salad the point salad game would be pretty fitting. The running joke was that we mostly designed food games since our first design was Dollars to Donuts (another spatial tile-laying game coming out next year). I made a game that would later become another quick card game we have called ‘CHOP’, but it didn’t really feel like Point Salad. So we went back to the drawing board and brainstormed some new ideas. At one point there were two decks you would take cards from, but then we were using a LOT of cards, so the idea to make them double-sided came about. The game came together pretty quickly – I remember playtesting it with our friend Joseph between Christmas and New Year’s, and it had some superfluous actions that were later cut, but it was essentially the bones of the game. Right out of the gate it just sort of worked!
Molly: We took the prototype to Orca Con, one of our local conventions, in January 2018 and it evolved quickly. The actions were removed, and we made each turn extremely simple. The gameplay became so fast that it meant we could play it over and over and over to see what worked and what didn’t.
There are 108 different scoring cards – is there any overlap with the scoring, do the cards repeat themselves?
Molly: They don’t repeat. There are 108 unique cards and it means that every play will be different.
Shawn: There are probably about… 15 or so different types of cards that are similar, but with different veggies – but yes, they are all unique, and all the veggies are perfectly balanced – although rumor has it that ONIONS ARE THE BEST.
The game has changed a bit from its beginnings. The veggies originally had special actions (each veggie type), those were later moved to just special action cards and then scrapped altogether. Why did you decide to get rid of the special actions in the game?
Molly: Because the game doesn’t need them! Someone probably said “let’s just play once without them” and they never came back.
Shawn: I remember the conversation! The actions were in the game so there was a bit more interaction and dynamic to the tableaus. There were a few weird mean ones like taking other peoples’ cards. Partly, they were on coupled with the veggie cards because taking a veggie card didn’t feel as valuable as taking another scoring card. When we decided to try without the actions we said “what if we just let people take TWO veggies or ONE point card? Would that work!?” Amazingly, it just did, and like Molly said, we never looked back!
Robb: A phrase that I can’t recall where it came from, but we all tend to remember when designing, “Find the Fun”. Pretty early on we realised the actions themselves weren’t a captivating part of the game – if streamlining the game made it easier to learn but didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the game then that’s where we wanted it to be.
What are some of the changes the game has made to get to this point?
Shawn: Honestly, our original prototypes look pretty similar to the final game! The graphic design didn’t even need much work, it was mostly having Dylan Mangini (our illustrator/graphic designer and good friend) put a layer of gloss over the whole package and really make the illustrations pop! He also did a great job on the box art and rulebook design. The colors in Point Salad are the bold, simple, fully-saturated CMYK values that we use in a lot of our prototypes – we love them! The green for the box is sort of a running joke from my education in landscape architecture, where I would profess to my studio-mates that C50-M0-Y100-K-0 was the best possible green. I am pretty excited that we stuck with it for the box and card backgrounds! It totally pops!
In terms of gameplay, besides taking out actions, not a whole lot changed. Lots of games go through rigorous testing and many many iterations. I wish I could say that designing Point Salad was arduous (for some of our other games it certainly has been!) but it actually just sort of came together really neatly from the start. Distilling the game to its simplest form was the real ‘click’ moment, and after that, it was basically ready to print! We went through some development notes and contemplated a number of minor changes based on blind playtesting at AEG, but a lot of the comments had been addressed already. One issue we were trying to solve was the setup (removal of vegetables per player count). We tried out some different methods of streamlining this, but in the end, we felt that it compromised the integrity of the balance of the game to have a random number of cards or to have a random quantity of each vegetable. In a game with a market that can already be sort of random and volatile, we knew we needed to give players a bit more agency in knowing exactly what the deck still held.
Was it hard balancing the cards, or relatively easy once you got the 15 types of scoring types figured out?
Shawn: Is it balanced!? That’s good! All kidding aside, it wasn’t too difficult to get a relative ‘feel’ for the balance and the numbers. We needed to add in the negative scoring cards in order to combat the notion that you can collect a lot of one type of scoring card and then just draft those veggies. This is still a viable strategy, but if you collect all of the positive scoring cards for one veggie type, you will essentially be scoring negative for all other types of veggie. The intuitive math for points that we established early on didn’t actually change very much. Some cards shifted by a point or two here or there, but honestly, it was pretty close from the start. We never used spreadsheets or formulas to figure anything out – it was all just playtesting and feeling it out as we played, and then making slight adjustments to what ‘felt right’.
What has been the best part of working with AEG?
Molly: Working with AEG has been excellent. We were always on the same page about the vision for the game.
Shawn: Yeah, it really has been an awesome experience. Point Salad was slated as a Big Game Night game, meaning it would be part of a massive Gen Con event where AEG would teach the game to hundreds of people and give them a copy. This year AEG decided to do something different and rather than keeping the Big Game Night games secret until the event, they would do their best to promote the games and build the hype ahead of time. I think it worked extremely well for Point Salad, as there was already a considerable buzz for the game and it ended up selling out this year at Gen Con!
AEG has a really awesome attitude towards working with designers. They really go the extra mile to make sure that things go smoothly and that everyone is on the same page. Their team is really professional, and it’s been great to get to know them all better – we are hoping we get opportunities to work with them in the future!
Robb: One thing I appreciated was their desire to make a game we would be proud of. Whatever the final product was, they wanted to make sure it aligned with our vision of what the game should be. In the end, we came out with a product everyone was proud of.
What was the best feedback you all received from a playtester about Point Salad?
Molly: Ha! To take out the action cards. Maybe that was in an early playtest. We never looked back!
What three adjectives would you pick to describe Point Salad’s gameplay?
Molly: Fast, fun, and friendly?
Shawn: Gotta keep up with the alliteration, let’s go with: Swift, simple, and satisfying!
Before we go, I wanted to ask about Calico? Which is a game Flatout Games is actually publishing. Could you give us the rundown about the game and why you decided to get into publishing to publish it?
Molly: Thanks for asking! We are so excited about Calico!
Shawn: Calico is a puzzly tile-laying game of quilts and cats! It’s an incredibly thinky puzzler, but the rules are super simple. Players sew patch tiles onto their quilt in order to make different spatial patterns while also trying to attract cats to their quilt. We played it with Kevin Russ, the designer and instantly fell in love with its elegance and wondered if there was a way that we could team up and bring the game to life. One thing that Flatout Games has always been fond of is teamwork and collaboration. We love the idea of people coming together to create great things and so we decided that what we could do is create an extension of Flatout Games – we called this extension the ‘CoLab’.
The CoLab is a team of individuals (on a game-by-game basis) who are all collaborating on bringing a game to market. It involves getting a team of people together in order to play to folks’ strengths and put together remarkable products. We are focused on democratic design, development, and publication, as well as equitable distribution of reward for efforts. The CoLab for Calico consists of the three of us, designer/developer David Iezzi, graphic designer Dylan Mangini, and designer Kevin Russ. We all wear multiple hats, as well – for instance, Kevin is doing some of the graphic design work, David is helping with logistics, etc. It’s a real team effort and it’s been a lot of fun so far! Flatout Games has always been interested in art direction and the product design side of board games. Taking other peoples’ games and helping to develop them into better games and outstanding products is something we have a lot of interest in.
Time will tell whether all of the parts of publishing are really for us, but right now we’re really excited about trying out all aspects of making games and seeing what makes the most sense for us. We already have some other thoughts about the potential of the CoLab, so you’ll probably be hearing more about it soon. If you’re interested in Calico, we’ll be launching a crowdfunding campaign soon, and you can sign up for our newsletter in order to stay in the know!
Thank you three again for taking time out to do this interview. Make sure to check out Flatout Games on Twitter @FlatoutGames. They are definitely one of my favorite Twitter accounts to follow as they are always working on some game or another and post pictures of the prototypes, etc.
Point Salad from AEG and designed by Flatout Games, should be coming to game stores by mid-September 2019.