We here at TOG have certainly been anticipating the first expansion of Smash Up! (one of our top 10 games of 2012). And to say we’re more than a little excited about today’s interview would be completely accurate. Today we’re chatting with Paul Peterson, designer of Smash Up! and its first expansion Awesome Level 9000—and much, much more. Paul, we’re so glad you’ve given us some time in your busy schedule. Thanks for chatting with us today!
First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’ve been a professional game designer for almost 20 years (and an amateur before that.) I started out at Wizards of the Coast working on Magic: the Gathering, Pokemon, and pretty much every other CCG the company put out while I was there.
Since then I’ve worked on a truly staggering variety of game types from MMOs to games for girls to games for mobile devices to social games.
No matter what area I’m working in, though, my heart always goes back to board games. I couldn’t be happier about the success that Smash Up is having.
Let’s go back to last year and the release of Smash Up. How did Smash Up come to be? And how did you land on the shuffle-building concept?
One of my favorite things about CCGs is building your deck from all of the cards available, but that can be a daunting task. So I started thinking about ways to capture that same feeling of customizing your deck without getting overwhelmed. Shuffle-building was what I came up with. The theme of different factions working together was a natural fit, although the game itself was much different when I initially started designing it.
It was originally much closer to my CCG roots in games like Magic: the Gathering, and players putting minions in front of them and attacking each other. The hook was that you could play one of your minions on top of another one to make a combo minion that was both a Ninja and a Robot, for example. But it really wasn’t coming together very well so I kept changing it.
The game went through a couple of other incarnations, but it wasn’t until I decided to make the game revolve around fighting for control of bases that things really fell into place, and Smash Up as it is today took shape.
Can you tell us the story of getting the game to market and your experience working with AEG?
Once I had the basic game done, I polished and playtested it a lot. I eventually had a version that I thought really showed the potential of the game, I decided to take it to the GAMA Trade Show and show it around to the all the game manufacturers. The show takes place around March and that is when they are usually starting to think about what games they want to make in the next year, so there are a lot of meetings between the companies and designers with games to show.
I met with several companies there and showed them Smash Up (although at the time it was named “Pirate, Ninja, Zombie, Robot.”) Everyone liked the idea of building decks by shuffling them together, but my meeting with AEG was different. John Zinser instantly liked the game. It seemed to strike a chord with him. After the demo he wanted to play again immediately, and after that game he got very excited and started talking about all the things we could do with the game. He started contacting his staff and setting up meetings with me to show them the game as well. It was very gratifying to see . I knew instantly that this was the company that I wanted to make this game and luckily it all came together.
AEG has been amazing to work with through the entire process. They have a tremendous amount of respect for the designers they work with, and want us as involved as we’re willing to be. I’ve had a lot of control over the vision of the game and input into areas that I might not have gotten with other companies. So, as the release of Awesome Level 9000 (which is probably my favorite expansion name ever) draws near, we’ve seen LOTS of search terms in our metrics regarding “When is the Smash Up expansion release date?” So can you tell us and the world: What is the Smash Up expansion release date?
It is printed and on its way. You should see it on store shelves at the end of March or early April at the latest. I can't wait! We know the expansion will feature 4 new factions and some new bases; does it add any other rules, or changes to the game itself?
Each of the four new factions adds new mechanics and strategies to the game, but they all do so within the same rule set as the base game. We wanted to expand the universe a bit before we started changing all of the rules on the players. The second expansion, though...
What is your favorite faction in the Smash Up world?
That’s a tough one. I am very partial to the Plants in the expansion, but overall I think the Zombies are my favorite. They have so many interesting cards like Tenacious Z and Mall Crawl. Here’s a suggestion for a future faction: Bloggers!—the pen is mightier than the sword! (That’s a freebie...) Anyway...your design credits include games such as Guillotine, The Harry Potter CCG, and others; are there any games you’ve designed in the past that you would love to reboot or do a new edition of?
That is a great question because James Ernest and I just did exactly that for Unexploded Cow. We originally designed the game in 2001 for his company, Cheapass Games. When he decided to relaunch Cheapass Games this year he choose Unexploded Cow to be the flagship game for the company, so we pulled the game out and took a hard look at it. We’ve both gained a lot of experience in the last 12 years and we found some areas of the game that we thought could use a little “sprucing up.” So we tweaked a bunch of the cards and changed the way the city deck worked and I think the game plays much better now, even though I loved the way it played back in 2001.
As for my other games, there is one small change I’d LOVE to make to Guillotine. There is a card in the game called Callous Guards. Currently it lasts until the person who played it wants it to end. This was a huge mistake. If I could go back, I’d make it last one turn. I urge everyone to take my advice and play it as such. Looking at the inside tray of the core set of Smash Up, it’s apparent that the game was designed to be expanded. How soon can players expect yet another expansion?
Well, we aren't ready to announce a title or anything, but I can say that we are planning on having another expansion out for Gen Con this year. We are just wrapping up the play testing on it and players are in for a few surprises. What are you top 5 games, and what do you love about those games?
At the moment my favorite games are:
Lords of Waterdeep - I’ve been a big fan of worker placement games since the first time I played Agricola, and I think that this is the best of them. It plays fast, but the mechanics are elegant and all work very well together.
Magic: the Gathering - I don’t really have the time to keep up with the current deck technology in the ever changing world of professional play (which was a big inspiration for making Smash Up,) but I’m always willing to break out some preconstructed decks or do a draft or even a league.
Dominon - There have been many deckbuilding games that have added to the genre since Dominion came out, but this is still the best overall. Some of the expansions are hit or miss, but overall the game still shines and continues to innovate.
Robo-Rally - Brain bending, robot destroying, factory racing fun. Plus people do little dances in their seats to try to figure out what the program they are making will do.
Cosmic Encounter - I am talking here about the original version of the game. The last several editions are just fine, but it’s the original version of the game that really taught me about how crazy a game can be and still be fun.
Are there any other non-Smash Up games on the horizon you can tell us about?
Well, a lot of my design efforts have been spent on Smash Up and Awesome Level 9000. I have managed to squeeze in a few other projects:
As mentioned above, James Ernest and I reworked Unexploded Cow which should be available right about the time that your readers see this.
My friend Mike Selinker designed the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game for Paizo, and asked me to come do some design and development on it. It is a huge project and we just finished the playtesting for that. It should be out later this year.
I do have a couple of games in the works at a few companies, but they are all in early stages and won’t be announced or on shelves any time soon.
And, of course, I’ll be at the GAMA Trade Show this year with a couple of new board game designs that I’m pretty excited about. I hope you like rolling dice... Now it’s time for our 1-Word Answers section! (Short phrases are also allowed.)
Favorite burger topping?
Favorite Hitchcock movie?
Favorite board game designer who’s not you...?
A tie between James Ernest and Richard Garfield.
Favorite ship in the Star Wars universe?
Favorite Doctor? (And I don’t mean your urologist...)
Thanks so much for taking some time to chat with us! We are looking forward to Awesome Level 9000 and more!
You can follow Paul on Twitter right here! And you can follow us on Twitter right here! And like us on FaceBook over here! And you can find out more about Awesome Level 9000 on the AEG website right here!
As always thanks for reading!