Today we’re joined by Philip duBarry, renowned designer of such games as Revolution! and Kingdom of Solomon.
Philip, thanks for joining us. First, tell us a little about yourself.
By day I’m the children’s pastor at my church, a substitute teacher, and a tutor. By night (and sometimes by day, too) I design board games. I am married with four girls and a one-year-old boy. My girls are my #1 playtesters!
What’s your story of becoming a game designer?
While I’ve designed games all my life, I’ve been designing games in a serious way since 2007. That’s when I made Revolution! I knew it was different because my family and friends actually wanted to play it. It was quite unusual, so I took it as a sign. I made some copies by hand to sell on the Internet. One of those copies was bought by a guy from Texas named Phil Reed. I had never heard of him (and had just barely heard of Steve Jackson Games) when he called, offering to publish my game. After that experience, I figured I could probably design a few more games. It’s been fun!
Your new game is Skyway Robbery. Tell us about that.
Skyway Robbery was inspired by classic heist movies like Ocean’s 11. It’s set in a sprawling, fantastical steampunk world. Players need to hire the best combination of gang members with the best equipment to steal the loot in the game’s far-flung locations. They arrive at these locations on a giant airship cruise liner. Players can also execute smaller side jobs, bust gang members out of the brig, and beat up local thugs—all in an effort to establish the most notorious criminal reputation.
Players carry out these various actions using three of their seven action cards each turn. The three cards are selected secretly and revealed in order. They can even call the police on other players who plan to carry out illegal actions later in the turn. It’s a race to beat the other players in forming the best gang and performing the most illegal activities before the last object is stolen or the airship completes its voyage.
What’s your favorite thing in the game? Whether it’s mechanism, artwork, card name—whatever!
My favorite part is how many really neat combos there are in the game. Sometimes new players can stumble onto one of these powerful combinations early in their first game and assume the game must be broken. I would advise players to stick with the game for a few more plays—there are quite a few of these combos just waiting to be discovered, and it all hinges on which cards are available when. I’m sure there are a few I’ve yet to find myself!
You mentioned in the Kickstarter video that the theme changed to steampunk. Why the change?
Originally, the game was called Bank Job and set in modern times. This was an okay theme, but we thought a steampunk approach might give us a bit more latitude for story-telling and artistic expression. Of course, this was a couple of years ago, before steampunk became so ubiquitous. Even so, looking at the game today, I believe that was the right call.
What are some of your favorite games right now?
My favorite game is still Dominion. We played again just the other day and it felt as fresh as ever. I can’t get over what an amazing game that is. I also really enjoy Innovation. The controlled chaos it that game is right up my alley. I also bought Iron City at GenCon this year. That is also a really fun game—a well-crafted experience.
You have another game that recently completed a run on Kickstarter—Fidelitas, which you co-designed with Jason Kotarski. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of designing a game with someone else?
First off, Jason did an amazing job running that campaign! He really did his homework, and it showed. Fidelitas was the first game I ever designed with someone else. That can be a little scary—worse for Jason since it was mainly his game. You don’t have the “final say.” That’s a bit of an illusion anyway even when solo-designing since publishers, playtesters, and even fans will often force a big change in a game. That being said, it feels more personal when it’s a co-designer trying to convince you to give up on a particular element. Fortunately, Jason is a really nice guy and we got along very well. I think we ended up with a give-and-take that let us bring the game to a higher level in the end. I’ve heard some horror stories, but I’d do it again in the future!
How has your faith affected you as a designer and/or game-player?
As a Christian, I come to games with a heightened sensitivity to certain issues and topics. I avoid some games just because of the subject matter or the art. I don’t want to look at certain images or act out certain actions because of how it affects my soul. On the other hand, I believe that games can and do have an important cultural significance as an art form. People often ask me how I can design games with violent themes (revolution and making threats) or that include lying, trickery, and (in the case of Skyway Robbery) stealing. My answer is that good art says something that is true.
The Bible itself depicts many awful and shameful events, often perpetrated by the “godly” people in the story. It’s quite a subversive book! What the Bible does for us, and what true art should do, is point us toward truth. What is life really like? What should it be like? What can we do about it? A game is a wonderful place for players to enter into a shared cultural experience. We agree about the rules and explore the implications of those rules and our choices within those rules. You can really see this in another game I have coming several months from now subtly titled Hitler Must Die.
Are there any upcoming designs you can share with us?
How’s that for a segue? Hitler Must Die is a cooperative game about assassinating Hitler. The players are all German officers and citizens—most of them are Nazis, but Nazis with a conscience. It will be very historical and gritty. I want players to engage in some of the same conversations had by the real historical figures who had to weigh the danger of failing with the evil of not trying. The characters in the game have to be convinced to even participate in the plot against Hitler. All the while, the Gestapo gets closer and closer to arresting them all and sending them to a concentration camp. I’m not quite sure what the reception will be for this kind of game, but I feel like it is a good game and has something true to say.
Lightning Round! We give you 5 fast questions, and you give us 5 fast answers! Go!
Favorite episode of any show ever?
The G.I. Joe episode where Dusty goes over to Cobra, but then double-crosses them right before he was supposed to gas all his friends.
Favorite toy from when you were a kid?
My AT-AT that I later sold on eBay to some guy in Germany who stole it using PayPal’s infamous refund policy.
Your last meal on death row?
Surf n Turf
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Star Wars or Star Trek or other (be specific)?
Star Wars, definitely. Even the horrible prequels resonate deep within somehow, despite my best efforts to resist.
Thanks for talking with us!
Thanks for the opportunity!
You can check out Skyway Robbery on Kickstarter right now. And stay tuned for a Double-Take Preview from us--soon! Thanks for reading!