Groovin’ In The Groves – A Conversation With…Dan Letzring

Tom chats with TIGR’s very own, Dan Letzring, about his recently, Kicstarted game, Groves.

Tom: Hi Dan. It’s great to have you back as my guest on Go Forth And Game.

Dan: It is great to be back Tom, thanks for having me!

What’s new with you?

So many things! I have been so busy with family life, work life, and publishing/designing! Since we last spoke, I have published Groves (a co-design with Steven Aramini), had my game Mint Julep published by Button Shy, and now I am prepping to fund an expansion for our family game Dino Dude Ranch (another co-design, this time with Dan Grek).

Let’s talk about Groves. The KS campaign just ended and you broke every stretch goal! That is awesome. Talk about the game some.

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The game is so much fun. I love Worker Placements and this combines WP with bag-building. It has a few unique elements that make it stand out in my eyes. First being that it really emphasizes the bag building aspect. Bonuses rely on the combinations of workers you draw from the bags and everything in your realm (even those workers played by other players) always get shuffled back in, so you do not always go through everything in your bag. This really stresses how you will cull your bag and how you will optimize the draws you are making. The game also employs a fun mechanism that involves bonuses on each worker placement spot that are earned by pairing appropriate workers with the land type. All in all Steven and I made a really great game that really will stand out in its genre!

Tell everyone about those stretch goals and sweet components.

We added some cool player boards to showcase Nolan Nasser’s awesome art, we included acrylic crystal gems and custom wooden resource bits, and we upgraded components in virtually every aspect we thought worthwhile. We also added a 2p variant and solo play variant along with a 5 page story in the rulebook describing the world we built and the history that led to the events happening in both the main game and the solo variant.

You co-designed this with Steven Aramini right. What was it like working with a guy like that?

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He is so energetic and passionate that it made it really easy to work with him. We both were super excited about this project so we made iterations fast and got the edits to the table even faster. Once we hit our groove, the progress moved like a steaming locomotive. He is such a nice guy with a lot of amazing ideas and he is always willing to make changes and explore new options to make the game the best it can be!

Talk about Gadgeteers for a bit.

Gadgeteers is a game we funded on Kickstarter last year (a co-design with Michael Cofer) that is about blind bidding to gain control of parts needed to build inventions. Once you build an invention, you can utilize its special power to leverage your bids later in the game. It is a clever little game this is quite fun if you like head-to-head cutthroat bidding. Many reviewers described it as blind bidding done right. They enjoyed that you could bluff without downright lying to someone.

Let’s talk about your games. You’re a designer as well as a publisher. How about list out your own designs then those you are publisher for.

Solo designs: Dino Dude Ranch, Mint Julep

Co-designs: Groves, Gadgeteers, Dino Dude Ranch: Hatchlings

Published Games: Dirigible Disaster, MORE TO COME 8)

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Tell me about Mint Julep.

Mint Julep is a game I designed for the 2016 Button Shy Wallet Game contest. The game is a 2-4p drafting game about horse racing. It was a lot of fun trying to create a game with the 18 card limitation and it has gotten some great positive feedback! It was on Kickstarter earlier this year (published by Button Shy Games) and can be purchased off their site now! I love the direction they went with the artwork on it, it came out looking so good!

Which do you like to wear more- publisher hat or designer hat?

Both are fun but I think I like the development and business end of publisher better. I just can’t escape the ideas I get for game designs though, so I continue to pursue design when I can. If time is too tough to flesh out a design but I think it has legs, I reach out to designers I know to collaborate and this is how most of the co-designs are born.

Letiman Games has a fine track record as a solid small publisher. Congrats! How did you do that?

Thanks, I appreciate that sentiment! I guess I just try to find a nice balance of fun, engaging gameplay with unique immersive themes that are fresh and exciting!

How do you find games with that kind of appeal?

Basically I just stay actively involved in the community. I have a lot of friends in the industry and I just talk to them often. We talk game designs and what we are working on and most of these games come from these conversations. I should also mention that I am always open to discuss submissions to us as well!

What is the hardest part of designing a game for you?

Having the time to truly devote to it outside of publishing and family life.  I think my least favorite part is compiling the prototypes. I am terrible at file creation and do a horrible job of making cards to play with.

When do you know a game is done?

When we playtest it and we stop having major gameplay edits. When all of the edits are superficial, we are ready to take it to the art stage.

Do you have a regular group that you playtest with?

I have a few groups I play with. Some are designers, some are hardcore gamers, some are more casual gamers, and some are families. It is really fantastic because I can get a wide variety of opinions with such a varied groups of friends.

What game is inside you trying to get out?

I have always wanted to make a western themed game. Groves started like this and strayed completely. I also am interested in murder mystery games and escape room games, so maybe we will publish one of these someday!

What game got out but should have stayed in?

My first game PhD the Game. It is an interesting game but it needs some serious love in the gameplay department. I know how I want to change it, I just haven’t done it yet.

Is there a mechanic that you really want to use but just can’t get it to work?

I always wanted to do a worker placement and we have done that now, so I guess the answer for now is NO!

How do you find the games you publish?

I think I answered this above. Maybe we should delete it?

What do you look for in a game for Letiman Games?

I somewhat addressed it above but will go into a little more detail. I am looking for fun gameplay that is playable by gamers and all adults but accessible for families as well. I love unique themes with endearing artwork and appreciate effort in making theme and gameplay mesh well.

Other than me who  would you love to design a game with?

There is one person who I always wanted to work with and we just recently made a contract official!  I will be developing and publishing their game next year. No spoilers yet!

Any publishing nightmares?

Knock on wood, nothing too devastating! We have been good about keeping issues minor up to this point.

What’s the BEST publishing experience you’ve had?

Groves has been great because it was a huge group effort with a lot of people (2 graphic designers, an artist, 2 designers, a copyeditor) and we really started from scratch building the world to retheme it. The story that came out of it by Michael Cofer set the stage for an amazing IP and Nolan’s artwork truly brought it to life. Not to mention, the gameplay is so good and the game is just super fun. This will definitely be a winner once it is out there!

There are SO many games out now.  So many different mechanics, themes, etc. In your opinion, what does it take to make a game good?

You cannot skimp in any department. Theme needs to be fresh, art needs to be top notch, and gameplay has to add something new! Just do not be lazy in any aspect of the game development.

In your opinion what is the current state of the game industry? Do you think we are headed for a downturn or an upswing?

Sometimes I wonder if too many games are coming out and then I look at the book industry. There are SO MANY BOOKS! There are kids books, indie books, high fantasy, young adult. Any every genre is doing well. I think as long as people keep making good games, the industry will just keep growing.

Which of your games are you most proud of?

All of them. They are all different in each way and we don’t regret any of them. Groves has been the most intensive so it is by far our biggest accomplishment.

You recently mentioned a DDR expansion on Twitter. Talk about that.

We will be launching the DDR expansion: Hatchlings on Kickstarter on November 7th. The game adds a few extra decision, some press your luck, and adorable cute baby dinosaurs. In the game, you have the option to buy eggs to put on your ranch. The eggs are only worth points if you can hatch them before the end of the game. The expansion adds small changes that lead to a big impact and all of our playtesters have said it makes the base game better. We wanted something that makes the original game better without compromising the integrity of the original.

What’s in the queue?

Well you know that I cannot say too much about it. Let’s see, I am collaborating with someone who might develop a specific line of games under the Letiman Games brand. This is in the works and seems promising. Hoping to have 2-3 games lined up for this line for 2018. We also plan to publish a fantastic game next year that will have a stellar line up of people involved. Keep your eyes and ears peeled on Letiman Games social media for updates soon!

What is something interesting about you that most of us would not know?

I appreciate so many things in life. I love family and friends and I am a big fan of the little things. I follow artist online solely because scrolling past their artwork lights up my day and makes me smile. I love to just engage with people so I am always open to talk to people in the industry about games, their company, kickstarter, and anything non-game related as well.

Thanks man.

THANK YOU!

Readers, thanks for coming back and hanging with you for a few minutes. I really appreciate it. Dan and I are both very active on Twitter. You can tweet him – @LetimanGames and me – @tomgurg. Let me know what you think about the post.

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