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Interview with Tim Puls, Designer of The Colonists

Tim PulsLookout Games is presenting a new take on action selection with their upcoming game, The Colonists. A new designer, Tim Puls, sat down with Controlled Area Gaming to discuss what this new game brings to the table.

CAG: How did the idea for The Colonists begin?

TP: I started playing these kind of board games approximately eight years ago with Agricola. I really enjoyed these types of games – with worker placement mechanism and developing character. After I had played a couple of other complex games including other worker placement games I started to think: why take all the workers back all the time, why not just move them from where they are currently placed? That was more or less the basic idea. All players start from the same location, explore the area and conduct actions while moving. But from that basic idea it took nearly half a year for the game mechanism (let’s call it “worker movement”) to be finished in terms of that it worked properly. For my first approach to design the mechanism I used pen, paper and scissors. It took a long time. I had to test so many opportunities that I decided to create a small software program to help me create new cards, arrange tiles, start over games in no time etc. After the program was finished the game progressed pretty quickly.

The ColonistsCAG: The game really looks like it has strong influence from other games. What other games influenced the design here?

TP: After the mechanism was set, I had to think about what I wanted to do with it. As a teenager I had liked computer games such as the Anno series, The Settlers, SimCity and similar games. I had spent hours building up communities, cities, villages. That was the path I wanted to follow here. As I always hated the military aspects in such games, I decided against armies. Plus, I do not like games in which luck is the main aspect.
Basically, that’s what I started with. Everything else happened while working on the game.

CAG: When playing The Colonists, how should players consider their play differently than when playing other action selection or resource management games?

Colonists Main BoardTP: In many games, players start collecting resources to decide later what to do with them. That approach I experienced with many test players. But it’s not the best tactic for The Colonists. There is a storage mechanism in the game. A player’s first question always should be: what do I want to build? If that is settled, start collecting the resources needed.

The second difference in comparison with other games: It is not a question of “shall I build this or that building” at all, but for many buildings it is “how often do I need the building?”

CAG: As this is your first published game, what is one experience from the design process that you wish you could have known at the start of working on The Colonists?

TP: Nothing about the design process itself, it’s more about the limitations that are set by the illustration process or the production process. For example, I learned a lot in the last year about what is possible and what is just too expensive. In detail, I immensely underestimated the cost of wooden pieces.

Colonists CardCAG: Was it difficult finding a publisher?

TP: In that particular case, luck was on my side. I introduced the first playable prototype to one of my gaming rounds, unknowingly that one of the guys (André Emkes) also is a regular at Lookout game nights. He took some pictures of the game and showed them to Hanno Girke from Lookout. Hanno wanted to see the game, and so I was invited to join the next round. And we went from there.

CAG: What do you feel is the main goal of a board game designer and who are some of your favorites?

TP: I can only talk about my initial goal. I never had the intention to publish a game whatsoever. I just wanted to create the game mechanism for myself. But after I had a playable software version of the game and the first reactions of my first test player (by the way, we played hours in front of a screen like in the old days with games like Vermeer, Kaiser etc, if anyone can remember) I wanted to know if this could be a game that could be liked by others as well. I guess that was the first time I really started to think about ways to publish the game. But – to be honest – one of the main reasons was to have a box with my name on it. 🙂

Due to the fact that I do not have so much experience, I do not know many designers. But I definitely like the games of Uwe Rosenberg and Mac Gerdts.

CAG: As a gamer, how do you approach other games you play? Do you only have the game mechanisms in mind?

TP: That depends. For example the last complex game I played was Food Chain Magnate, with a pretty cool game mechanism. Here I did not care very much about illustrations. In the card game Illuminati I very much loved the really funny cards. Other games are just fun such as the dice game “The big throw”.

CAG: Where do your design ideas come from?

TP: I try to remember what I liked in old computer games. There are several other things I contemplate: what would I like to do or handle with, what challenges I would like to brood over, or just what do I want to hold in my hand or see in front of me.

With The Colonists, I can definitely say the theme of the game came last. The most difficult part was to find a proper name.

CAG: What types of early playtesters do you seek out for a design?

TP: Given that I only have developed one game I can honestly say I took any players I could get. But seriously, my first tester was one of my best friends and he is a very critical computer game player. (For insiders, for him Diablo 2 is good, Diablo 3 is … not.) And that helped a lot. I really had a lot of ideas which he just told me were crap or at least very annoying. And he was right, always. And then of course Michael Lang. He has an online store for board games and thus a great overview about existing games. He was the one who told me that my idea was not yet implemented hundreds of times. So I would say you need guys that can tell you the truth about your idea!

CAG: What is one game you would like to redesign and give it your own style or revision of rules?

TP: I really don’t know. All the games that I have played so far are good as they are. Maybe the card game “pairs” (or “Memory” as we say in Germany) could be fun with a worker movement mechanism of two workers/finders for each player. Just kidding … or not?

Controlled Area Gaming appreciates Tim Puls taking the time to answer our questions. More about The Colonists can be found at Lookout Spiele’s website.