Interview with Games Designer,  David Thompson Today, I’m going to be putting some questions to David Thompson , the games designer ...

Interview with Games Designer, David Thompson Interview with Games Designer, David Thompson

Interview with Games Designer, David Thompson

Interview with Games Designer, David Thompson


Interview with Games Designer, 
David Thompson

Today, I’m going to be putting some questions to David Thompson, the games designer currently best known for the superb solitaire game, Pavlov’s House.to learn something of his background, gaming thoughts and future designs.

The obvious and easy factual starter is what was your path into the gaming world? 


I began my gaming life when I was about 10 or 11. I started with AD&D. At the time, AD&D was making the transition from 1st to 2nd edition. My brother and I had picked up the core rule books for 2nd edition, but the campaign setting info for the 1st edition of Forgotten Realms. We had no clue they were different editions - and we didn’t care! The game kept us busy for countless hours. We also dabbled with things like HeroQuest, but we always came back to D&D. RPGs were my primary gaming interest through my late 20s and into my 30s. I knew about some other tabletop gaming stuff - mostly things like miniatures (Warhammer and the Clix games specifically come to mind), but it wasn’t until I was married and had kids that I discovered “hobby board gaming”. 
Once I discovered everything that board gaming had to offer, I jumped into the deep end and never looked back.

Do you consider yourself more of a wargamer or more of a Eurogamer and why?


Wow. Great question. My favorite game type is the Waro/Weuro (Wargame-Euro hybrid). But I would take that a bit farther and say that any political or historical game (including those with a war theme) and Euro mechanisms are my favorites (think games like Freedom: the Underground Railroad, 13 Days, etc). 
I spend more time working on wargame designs than Euros, but more time playing Euros (they are much easier to get to the table with my family).

Which games stand out for you on the way to deciding to design your own game?

A Few Acres of Snow (AFAoS) is probably my single biggest design inspiration, Halifax Hammer*be damned! [*a move credited with being an unstoppable game winner]  I love deck-building and deck-manipulation as a core mechanism; it allows for the ability to model all sorts of interesting things in an elegant way. AFAoS was one of the first to take deck-building and tie it to a spatial element. This influence can be seen in many of my designs (some that are still in development with publishers), but even my abstract strategy game War Chest owes some of its lineage to AFAoS.

What were some of the other influences and reasons that led you to design and produce your first game? 

My first game design has never been published, but gives a good idea about my path to board games in general and design specifically. About the time I got married and had my first child, I was looking to create a game that borrowed from some of my favorite game inspirations. I wanted to make a game that combined tactical elements from tabletop RPGs like D&D, gameplay from tactical RPG video games like Final Fantasy Tactics, and miniature tabletop games like Mage Knight (the original Clix game from Wizkids, not the board game). At the time I really didn’t know about board games, and there weren’t very many examples of board game / miniature game hybrids (now 1,376 of them are released every week on Kickstarter!). So, the result of this was a game I created called Skirmish Tactics Apocalypse. Over the years this design has been signed by a couple publishers but never actually made it to publication. The core design concept (a streamlined board game / minis hybrid) is no longer unique, which makes it a tough pitch these days, but it helped me discover the world of hobby board gaming and will always have a soft spot in my heart.

Your first professionally published game, I believe, was Armageddon, which was co-designed with Chris Marling and published by Queen games.  Can you give us some idea of that experience and your choice of topic? 

In 2014 I moved from the US to the UK. I landed in a village just outside of Cambridge, where there is an amazing designer and playtest community. One of the designers there is Chris Marling, and we instantly became friends. Chris had been working on a core mechanism for a game he called From the Ground Up. The conceit was a city-building game set in a post-apocalyptic setting with a unique sort of auction/area influence mechanic. We worked together on the game for a year or so. At Spiel 2015, we pitched the game to Queen. It was one of our first meetings of the con, and Queen signed it on the spot. It’s extremely rare to have a game signed on the spot by a publisher, so we were super happy. The next year, the game was released at Spiel. Queen pushed it big time at the con, with a huge roll out, including something like 40+ demo tables. To say the experience with my first published game was a positive one would be an understatement.

Your most recent game Pavlov’s House was a Kickstarter project published by Dan Verssen Games.  First of all, what was the experience of being part of a Kickstarter project like and secondly of working with DVG? 

I’m going to flip my response around, because I think it’s a more natural flow. 
Working with DVG has been both unique and great. It’s unique in the sense that I essentially did all the design, development, and art for the game. Dan and crew at DVG were responsible for working with the printer, fulfilling the game, and customer service. So, from a creative control perspective, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. Everything in the final game, for better or worse, is my fault! And Dan, Kevin, and Sarah at DVG had to work on all the stuff that I have zero interest in.
I was a collaborator on the Kickstarter, which meant I could modify the page, respond to questions, etc. Pretty much everything except change stuff like pledge levels. If you had to define the Kickstarter experience in a single word, the word would be “stress.” I was a nervous wreck in the days leading up to the launch. I assumed a handful of people would be interested in Pavlov’s House due to it having been a fairly popular print-and-play project on BGG. But I had no idea it would get the support it did.


[Got to say that doesn’t surprise me, i.e. the huge support the game got - as I was one of those hooked from the very start by topic, mechanics and the company that was going to publish the game and, of course, inspired me to both review the game and then ask you to do this in-depth interview.]

But moving on. Is there a particular group of gamers or games club that has helped you with playtesting? 

There are a few different groups that I use for testing. Like I mentioned earlier, I lived near Cambridge for the last four years. Playtest UK is the world’s largest design and playtest group, and there is an extremely talented and active chapter in Cambridge. The designers in the group (folks like Brett Gilbert, Matthew Dunstan, Chris Marling, Trevor Benjamin, and more) are always gracious with their time, and provide amazing feedback. And there’s a core of great playtesters who will provide honest, critical feedback.
I also use my personal game groups, once a game is beyond the initial design phases. With these tests, I’m usually more interested in observing the group and gauging the play experience rather than looking for critical feedback.
And then there are remote testers who either create a print-and-play copy of the game or test the game online. I use Tabletop Simulator to both design and test games, and I usually make a playtest version available to those who want to test it for me. In the past I have also used Tabletopia and Vassal for this purpose. 
In the end, I get a good combination of critical feedback from designers and dedicated playtesters, in-person gaming groups, and blind playtesting using both physical and digital implementations.

What was it like to experience being at UK Expo 2018 demoing some of your games?  Any particular stories to tell there? 

I attended UKGE every year I lived in the UK (from 2015-2018). It has been amazing to see the convention change over time. It has grown so quickly, and is run so well. In prior years, I was primarily there to play games and pitch to publishers. In 2018, I was able to demo one of my new releases (Orc-lympics, published by Brain games), show off the pre-production copy of Pavlov’s House, and show off a prototype of a game I have that’s coming out within the next year or two from Phalanx (a post-Cold War political strategy game called Europe Divided). 
The single best experience from the convention was meeting up with Andrew Powell. I had met Andrew in person for the first time the previous year at UKGE. Prior to that, we had chatted online due to his interest in Pavlov’s House. Andrew became one of the most impactful testers for Pavlov’s House - so much of his input changed the game for the better. He also introduced me to a Facebook Group (Solitaire Wargamers) that has become an amazing support community for my designs, and ultimately led me to working with DVG on the game.

Your other game, War Chest, published this year is a very different, more abstract design.  What took you down this different road? 


The road to War Chest was a long, winding one. I mentioned earlier that its lineage can be traced back to influences like A Few Acres of Snow. Just around the time I was moving to the UK, I had started working on a World War 2 platoon-level deck
building game. After the initial design was complete, I began to develop it with a close friend and design partner (Trevor Benjamin). As we were finishing the development of that game, Trevor suggested the idea of boiling the game down to a MUCH more streamlined design and replacing deck-building with bag-building. The initial sketches of that concept still look very much like the final, published version of War Chest, though we iterated on it for a year, running countless playtests to ensure balance across all the different unit combinations. Despite its elegance as an abstract strategy game, it is extremely asymmetric and provides for a TON of possible unit combinations because you draft your group of unique units. I’ve never been happier with the final result of one of my games. AEG spared no expense with the production, using extremely high quality chips for the units, and the graphic design (by the super talented Brigette Indelicato) is elegant and beautiful.

Another recent design Castle Itter is currently in development too, I believe. Can you tell us something of the game and any details of its possible release? 

Castle Itter is based on an amazing WW2 story. If you’re not familiar with it, stop reading this now and go Google it. [I did – and I really recommend that those of you reading this do so too!] Prepare yourself for a story so amazing that people wouldn’t believe you if there wasn’t historical proof. In short, Hitler is dead and the war in Europe almost over, but remnants of the SS fight on. In the game, US tankers and infantrymen join with Wehrmacht infantry, an SS officer, French VIP prisoners, and an Austrian resistance fighter to defend a medieval Austrian castle against an SS assault. See - I told you it was unbelievable! Castle Itter was the design where I first created the tactical game elements that were also featured in Pavlov’s House. The game is being published by DVG and is set to launch on Kickstarter in early-to-mid November 2018.

Personally that’s fantastic news for me.  However, the game I really would love to see taken up by one of the major companies is the embryo design you mentioned earlier, Skirmish Tactics Apocalypse.   What are the possibilities of seeing that happening? 


Well, as I mentioned before, Skirmish Tactics Apocalypse was my first game design and my first love. I spent years (literally, about five or six years) working on the design. Over time it has been signed by a couple publishers but never made it to publication. I’ve made the entire game (three settings, six factions) available as free print-and-play files, and the game can be played for free on Tabletop Simulator. I’ve considered pitching it to publishers, but the market for hybrid minis/board games is so crowded these days that I’m not sure how much demand there would be for it. But I’ll never say never.


I don’t think I’d be a lone voice in saying I would love to see it snapped up.  I know what you mean about the crowded market, but everything I’ve seen of your designs makes me believe there’s still room for at least one more sci-fi tactical hybrid! 

Finally, I’d really like to thank you for taking the time to reply to all my questions and wish you every success with all your future projects.  



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