Calling in a Favor--An Interview with Ken Franklin, Designer of The Mansky Caper

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Today’s interview is full of intrigue, as we’re joined by Ken Franklin, designer of The Mansky Caper, published by Calliope Games! He’s a retired doctor turned game designer, and he was gracious enough to tell us about his story, his process, and his vision for gaming. Let’s see what he has to say!


Ken, thanks for joining us!

Thank you - this is a delight!


So let’s jump right in. Mansky Caper is getting some great buzz. Tell us a little about the game.

It's 1925, and this rich but heavy-handed mobster, Al Mansky, is out of town. You and your fellow players have keys to part of his mansion, so it’s the perfect opportunity to rob Al blind. Three wrinkles, though: First, each of you think they deserve just a little more loot than everyone else. Second, Al’s security system is based entirely on TNT. Finally--and this is key--each of you has a special ability, but you can’t use yours to help yourself. Instead, you “Call in a Favor” to make others use THEIR power to help YOU. Shrewdly collecting and using Favors is the strategic core of The Mansky Caper.

What was the inspiration behind the design of this game?

Way back in 1990, I wrote a simple press-your-luck shareware game that answered the question: “You have 1 million boxes in front of you. All have $5 in them, except one, which has a nuclear bomb. How many are you willing to open?” In 2011, I decided to try to make that into a tabletop game, and I was miraculously blessed when Calliope not only gave this noob a pitch appointment, but they signed it! From there, I worked with Ray Wehrs and Chris Leder to make it the much-richer experience you see now. The brilliant idea of Favors came from my wife, Debi.

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Who did you model Al Mansky after?

He’s really just a stereotypical gangster with a dash of evil cleverness. I made his name by mashing Al Capone, Bugsy Malone, and Meyer Lansky together. His “voice” is modelled after Marlon Brando’s performance of Don Corleone, the Godfather. I enjoy cosplaying as Al at cons when I demo the game.

What makes The Mansky Caper stand out from other heist games?

First, Calliope really raised the bar by applying their mandate that games come pre-assembled and ready to play. When people open the box and see those 3D safes, the golden-age comic book that explains the rules, and all the other components ready to go, I enjoy watching their eyes light up. Second, I think my son Matt, under the graphic direction of Andy Hepworth, has produced some stellar art. Finally, I think the deep and rich interaction that comes from the Favor mechanic is something you won’t find anywhere else.

As a retired doctor, what role has gaming played in your life through the years?

Gaming has been my passion since I first got a “52-game chest” at age 5. I loved collecting games, and creating new games using components from others. That led to gaming as a social activity with my friends, as well as a teaching tool as I taught Family Medicine. Now, Debi and I host open game nights regularly to help people in our community get to know and care for each other.

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What got you into this hobby?

As I said, I have been a game collector since I was 5. I played first edition D&D in college. As an Army brat (and later as an Army physician), every military move gave me an opportunity to visit new game stores and to use tabletop games to build friendships. However, my first GenCon in 2011 was like Dorothy landing in Oz! That experience really pulled me from the periphery into the center of this amazing hobby.

What are your favorite genres of games?

I have pretty wide tastes, but these days I tend to focus on games that take 90 minutes or less. That’s because the folks that typically come to our game nights don’t choose heavier games. I am also not a fan of gore, undead, and Lovecraft games--I think our world needs more joy and less despair. Those limitations aside, I’m up for just about anything!

What was the last game to surprise you, and what made it so great?

I have to say that City of Gears has blown me away, partly because I played the original GameCrafter version 6 years ago. (It’s one of the first games I played with Debi.) Chris Leder, Daryl Andrews, and Grey Fox truly created the most evocative robo-steam experience I have ever seen.

What’s next for you--game design or otherwise?

I am about to experience yet another miracle as a Guest at two cons in 2019 (KublaCon in San Francisco and GrandCon in Grand Rapids, Michigan). Chris Leder and I have collaborated on another game for Maple Games, Imagineers, about theme park and roller coaster building, that did well on Kickstarter and should hit stores this summer. And I’m happy to say I have four other games in development that have attracted some publisher interest. My goal is to create games that highlight the value of winning alongside others rather than crushing others in defeat--I call them collaborative games rather than cooperative games.

Lightning Round!

Favorite Christmas/Holiday tradition?

Cooking a big meal for my family--I have four sons all within 10 miles of home. Playing games after dinner, of course.

Favorite Holiday movie?

A Christmas Story was my favorite, but one year it put my eye out… just kidding. A Christmas Story.

What’s in your Netflix cue that you’re dying to watch?

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Believe it or not, I spend so much time playing and designing games that my Netflix queue is EMPTY. About once a month I’ll look for things I’ve missed. I loved the Stranger Things series.

What’s your favorite candy?

Chocolate truffles. Any flavor but mocha.

What’s the last great book you read?

Fiction: The Martian by Andy Weir. I love me some hard science fiction; I grew up on Asimov and Heinlein. Non-fiction: Lies We Believe About God by Wm. Paul Young. In my opinion, true, loving, discipleship Christianity has been hijacked in the media by “I’m Saved, You’re Going to Hell” Christianity. I hope to help change that, and there are lots of amazing Christian gamers that share that hope.

Thanks for joining us, Ken!

Thank you so much for blessing me with this interview!

And thank you for reading!