5 Questions with Game Designer Grant Howitt!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Grant Howitt as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

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Grant is a prolific tabletop game designer who has created multi-book campaign settings and adventures, but is perhaps best known for his one-page roleplaying games, where he fits an entire game — objectives, setting, characters, rules, and other game details and stylistic flourishes — onto a single piece of paper!

He has built a reputation for clever design, irreverent campaign concepts, and topflight roleplaying experiences, and he’s currently putting all of those creative energies into Heart: The City Beneath, a recent Kickstarter success story.

Grant was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Grant Howitt

1. How did you get started with roleplaying games? When did you start designing your own games?

I got into RPGs back in 2000 – I saw a game of Vampire the Masquerade being played, and while I didn’t take part, I kind of fell in love with the possibility of the thing. I come from a wargaming and videogaming background, so the flexibility available to players blew my mind when I saw it done live. I didn’t actually play regularly for another six years, because my high school friends were too cool to do it, and I can’t blame them.

I started making my own games significantly before that. I wrote my first game in high school, a hack of a game called Zaibatsu that I got off an Angelfire website, and it reflects my 14-year-old obsession with marijuana, shooting two guns at once, and generally dicking about. (I still like all of those things but I feel like I’m expressing it in more subtle ways these days.)

I went on to write a Live-Action Roleplaying system called Zombie LARP at University with my friend Chris Taylor, who I now co-own an RPG business with alongside Mary Hamilton. (I’m married to Mary; it’s pretty cool running a business doing the thing you love most with the people you love most.)

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[Have you ever masterminded the world’s greatest heist while being a bear?
That’s the goal of Honey Heist, a one-page roleplaying game created by Howitt.]

2. Your games run the gamut from one-page works like the lighthearted Honey Heist and the tension-filled Wake to more complex and detailed games like One Last Job and Spire.

But one interesting thing aspect of your games is that there’s always an abundance of material to inspire the roleplaying part of the game. When designing the mechanics of a game, how do you find the sweet spot between necessity, efficiency, stylistic flair, and going overboard?

That’s a hell of a question! It’s tricky; you get to learn the feel for it after a while. Chris also reins me in a lot and helps me keep a handle on my excesses; he’s very much the yin to my yang. I think the goal is to make something that’s fun to read and that sparks ideas for adventures in the reader’s head – you’re giving them the keys to a fantasy world and guiding them to their own stories, rather than telling them something directly. So you can get loose with it and stitch things together with a theme rather than worrying about, you know, sentence structure and all that stuff.

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3. What are two games that have had a strong influence on your own roleplaying experience, either as a player or a game creator? And what two of your own games would you recommend that people try to widen their own gaming experience?

First off: Dogs in the Vineyard by D Vincent Baker, which is out of print now, but it taught me that games can be about one thing and do it perfectly rather than try to simulate any potential actions within a game world. It taught me a lot about abstraction. It’s hugely clever and one player character always ends up shooting another by the end of a session due to an argument about faith, and that’s extremely my bag.

Secondly: Wushu, by Dan Bayn, which is geared towards daft high-action explosive schlocky pulp play, but the system is so monumentally clever because it barely exists. The fascinating thing about Wushu is that it says “yes, you can do that” where most other games say “no, you can’t do that yet” which means that, after about three sessions, you end up burned out because no-one’s keeping you at arm’s length from your potential. I love it. It’s roleplaying cocaine.

And from myself? I think people should buy the most expensive ones, because I need a new pair of boots. (Actually? Read GENIUS LOCI which is about playing a cannibalistic post office god in 1960’s rural Southern England, because it’s not like anything else I’ve read or written, and that counts for something. And HAVOC BRIGADE, which is about an orc “infiltration” mission into a human city, and it’s legitimately some of the most fun I’ve had running a game due to the wild freedom afforded to players.)

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4. What’s next for Grant Howitt?

At the moment we’re getting Heart delivered to Kickstarter backers (you can pre-order it from our site here) and it’ll be delivered sometime in August) and that’s been a big creative drain – we put out the corebook and four sourcebooks alongside it in a few months.

So at present Chris and I are taking time to recharge, keeping the business ticking over (I’m still writing one game a month and don’t intend on stopping any time soon), commissioning works from other authors, and trying to centre ourselves to get perspective and write the Next Big Thing. We have a few ideas at present; maybe something set in the same world as Spire and Heart, maybe some sort of Deep South ghost-hunting game, or maybe something about eating magical materials to cast neat spells. I dunno just yet.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, roleplayers, aspiring game designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Make stuff! It’s fun. Then of course the next part, which is just as important, is to release it. You have to get stuff out there, get eyes on it, help people make a relationship with your work.

I see a lot of games which have been in development for, like, a decade – and that’s too long for most projects, you wind up with something weird and ingrown and self-referentially exclusive. So release stuff that you’re unsure but excited about, because nothing is ever perfect, and try to have fun with it.


A huge thank you to Grant for his time. You can follow him on Twitter for updates on his latest projects, visit Rowan, Rook, and Decard for his impressive library of games, and if you enjoy his roleplaying creations, please consider joining his Patreon! There is literally no telling what he’ll create next!

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Kickstarter Roundup!

Oh yes, it’s that time again.

For years now, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been hotbeds of innovative puzzle and game design, and I’m always happy to spread the word about worthy projects that I think will delight and intrigue my fellow PuzzleNationers.

So let’s take a look at some projects that are currently seeking funding and see if any pique your interest! (This time around, we’ve got twice as many recommendations as usual! So much puzzly potential!)


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The first is a project by Fireball Crosswords and Fireball Newsflash Crosswords constructor Peter Gordon, entitled A-to-Z Crosswords Volume 2: More Petite Pangram Puzzles.

The project is easy to explain, but mindblowing to think about. Every single day for 24 WEEKS, you get a 9×11 crossword puzzle that contains all 26 letters. The puzzles range from easy to medium in difficulty, arrive by email, and are constructed by Gordon and professional puzzler Frank Longo.

This is a very cool project that deserves your support — they’re a little more than a third of the way there, with 9 days to go — and you should definitely check it out!

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The next project is Puzzle Postcards: Season Two by the Enigma Emporium.

Last year, Wish You Were Here was part of our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, and it’s fantastic to see that the Enigma Emporium is Kickstarting another puzzle postcard mystery this year.

Essentially, an entire mystery is concealed within a handful of postcards, challenging you to mine them for every scrap of information as you uncover a series of coded messages. It’s spycraft in an envelope, very clever stuff.

Already funded with 12 days to go — and carrying a solid track record of previous successful Kickstarter projects behind them — I cannot recommend this one highly enough. I loved Wish You Were Here, as well as the follow-up series.

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For a change of pace, our next project is The Fuzzies.

Basically, this is a Jenga-style dexterity game, but made out of little fuzzy balls instead of pieces of wood. And instead of choosing which piece you remove and place on top, that is determined by a deck of cards instead.

I don’t know how it works — actually staying upright in the first place — but apparently it does.

This family-friendly game has already tripled its funding goal with 29 days to go, so it might be right up your alley.

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The next project we’re sharing today is the ENIGMAS deck of puzzle playing cards.

David Kwong — constructor, magician, and all-around puzzly fellow — has masterminded a puzzle mystery and a series of hidden messages and ciphers, all contained within a deck of cards.

ENIGMAS marries some of the ideas from his Enigmatist show — specifically the historical aspects — with an ingenious puzzle hunt to create an intriguing solving situation. Plus, once you’ve cracked all the puzzly elements, you’ve still got a beautiful deck of cards to enjoy.

This project has blasted well past its funding goal, and with 9 days to go, they’ve added a special limited-run deck of red cards (to compliment the standard blue deck) that will only be offered to Kickstarter backers and never sold in stores. With a pedigree like David’s, you can’t go wrong!

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Our next project is bigger and no less ambitious. It’s Sherlock’s Mysteries: An Interactive Puzzle Adventure (not to be confused with another Sherlock-based Kickstarter running right now).

Combining board game and escape room elements, this project contains 10 mysteries (described as chapters) that combine into one interwoven narrative where you try to save the life of Sherlock Holmes!

By combining murder mystery-style solving with puzzles like ciphers and deduction puzzles, this project definitely tries to encapsulate the experience of being the Great Detective from the comfort of your own home.

About halfway to its goal with 21 days left, this project isn’t a lock (given the price tag of $135 to experience the entire story), but it’s definitely worth a look. (I’m especially intrigued by the fact that certain levels offer “refill kits” that allow the experience to be played more than once!)

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For something just as puzzly but more immersive from a roleplaying point of view, there’s The Shivers.

In this game, someone has gone missing in the house owned by the Shivers family, and you play one of the family members trying to solve the mystery and defeat dangerous foes at work in various sinister and creepy scenarios.

This gameplay is bolstered by pop-up 3-D models of the various rooms of the house, bringing the setting and different stories to life right before your eyes.

This is a very clever combination of puzzle hunt, roleplaying game, and pop-up book that I’ve never really seen before, and like some of these other projects, it has blown past its funding goal with strong support from interested gamers and puzzlers.

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Following the escape room/puzzle mystery at home template, Legacy: Quest for a Family Treasure is our next project to discuss.

You receive a black box in the mail, and inside, you discover in your estranged father’s will that there is a family treasure hidden somewhere in Europe. And you’ll have to unravel secrets of the past in order to secure your future.

This immersive mystery involves audio and video clues, physical evidence to pore over, and even incorporates Internet searching into the gameplay. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the level of depth and attention to detail in this one, and clearly I’m not the only one, as the project has already met and surpassed its funding goal with 10 days to go.

The familial element adds a neat twist to the mystery-at-home genre, and I suspect this project will do very well.

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The last project we’ll be sharing today is The Labyrinth: An Immersive Multi-Platform Puzzle Challenge.

There’s a lot of stuff included in this one: puzzle boxes, ciphers, maps, tools. They’re sending you a CRATE full of material here. The goal is to move through the various chambers of a labyrinth, solving puzzles as you go.

With 55 puzzles included — and an expected solve time of 8-10 hours — this is a breathtaking amount of puzzly paraphernalia. So there’s cost to consider here. The full puzzle costs $195 (there’s even a more expensive deluxe edition), so although that easily makes it the priciest project we’re discussing today, but also one of the most visually impressive.

And yet, with 14 days to go, they’ve already passed their funding goal nine times over. Check it out and see what you think of the expansive puzzle selection offered here.


Have any of these games or projects hooked you? Tell us which ones you’re supporting in the comments section below! And if there are any campaigns you’re supporting that we missed, let us know!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

PuzzleNation First Look: Everything Board Games Magazine

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The world of board games is expanding and evolving in new ways every day. Encompassing everything from traditional board and dice games to card games, roleplaying games, and more, we’re talking about an ever-expanding universe of gameplay possibilities.

So when I heard about a new publication called Everything Board Games Magazine, I simply had to investigate. Based on the ambitiousness alone, I was intrigued.

The debut issue of the magazine is now available for free on their website, and I’ve gotta say… I’m pretty impressed.

It’s 82 pages, a full-color reading experience that is vibrant, visually engaging, and absolutely jam-packed with content. I’m pretty plugged into the board game world, and I discovered half a dozen games I knew nothing about.

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After a few pages of ads, we’re greeted with a letter from the editor, and you immediately get a sense of the passion and excitement that permeates every page of the magazine:

Thank you for taking the time to read through the first ever issue of Everything Board Games Magazine! We know there are a lot of voices vying for your attention in the wonderful world of board games. We’ve strived to produce something that will bring value and joy to the gamer in every walk of life. Our team of board game fanatics have scoured the wide-world of gaming to bring you a diverse and interesting selection of articles, interviews, game reviews, previews and more! It is our hope and desire to connect with you once every two months, filling your mind with gaming pleasures.

Every piece in the magazine — whether it’s a game review, informational article, or interview — is loaded with enthusiasm. The writing crackles with excitement, and every contributor clearly loves the world of board games.

And honestly, in a world where a lot of genre-focused content seems to drip with sarcasm and know-it-all condescension, it’s refreshing to read pieces full of sincerity and affection, even when offering constructive criticism.

The magazine has teasers for upcoming games and Kickstarter campaigns, loads of reviews (though many reviews are just links to the full reviews on their website), as well as interviews about hobby gaming, board game design, running a board game cafe, and more.

Giveaways, polls, board game art, a bi-monthly top 5 games countdown… every page is packed with content.

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And every last page is interactive. Links with more information, links to websites, links for ads, links for email, links to contribute or suggest content or offer feedback. Interactive everything. (And thankfully, no auto-play ads or videos or audio clips to spoil the experience.)

In this first issue alone, they featured games based on history, monsters, latte art, the golden age of sci-fi, theme parks, mythology, war, painting, and crime-solving.

They even managed to throw in a free print-and-play stock trading game AND a free RPG adventure for Dungeons & Dragons.

Aside from a few typos here and there, the debut issue of Everything Board Games Magazine was a brisk, engaging, thoroughly enjoyable read. The only bad thing is waiting two months for the next one.

You can check it out and sign up for your free subscription here.


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Game Conventions Moving Online Soon! *UPDATE*

UPDATE: We have removed all information regarding the Origins Online event in solidarity with the mass outpouring of support for POC and other marginalized voices, in the wake of GAMA’s lack of response to the recent protests.


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[Image courtesy of coolduder.]

Although some businesses and public spaces are beginning to open up, there’s no denying that the coronavirus is still having a devastating effect on large public gatherings.

For example, San Diego Comic Con, one of the premiere destination events for film, TV, and comic book fandom, is trying to figure out how to move the convention, or some significant aspect of it, online. But with so many participants and vendors to wrangle into some shared virtual space, things aren’t looking good for one of the biggest events on the entertainment calendar.

Maybe they can take a few pointers from the puzzle and game industry, because it seems like those fields are way ahead.

Not only did crossword fans get to enjoy Crossword Tournament From Your Couch back in March, but several gaming conventions are moving online in the hopes of bringing fans together and salvaging at least part of the year’s usual revelry and profit.

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Over Memorial Day weekend, the team at Paizo are hosting PaizoCon Online, a celebration of roleplaying games under the Paizo banner!

Six days of gaming — spanning May 26th through May 31st — allow for fans to stay safe at home as they play Pathfinder and Starfinder games.

If you’re looking to explore some D&D-style fun, either as an experienced player or a newcomer, click here to check out the full details on PaizoCon Online!

renegade con

And not long after that, the team at Renegade Game Studios is hosting Renegade Con: Virtual Edition.

Running from Friday, June 5th, to Sunday, June 7th, this free event (just sign up here!) brings together digital demos of new Renegade games, workshops, and panels featuring game designers and artists!

Everyone who signs up for a free ticket will have access to:

  • Shop the convention specials during the event
  • Get into free panels and workshops including The State of Renegade where we’ll talk about future projects on the horizon!
  • Demo upcoming and new games!

Several of these events are also serving as fundraisers for various companies and event organizers that have suffered losses during the pandemic — including the Con of Champions fundraiser this weekend for Tabletop Events — so if you want to support the games industry, be sure to sign up and check out one of these events.

Maybe the folks at San Diego Comic Con will do so as well and pick up a trick or two along the way.


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

Acts of Puzzly Charity: Fight Fires With Games!

Puzzlers have many admirable qualities, and one particular trait that’s common amongst constructors and puzzle fans alike is generosity.

In the past, constructors and game companies have teamed up for wonderful charitable efforts on behalf of women’s rights / women’s health, the LGBTQIA+ community, education and STEM programs, mental health, and other worthwhile causes.

Puzzlers donated time and creative energies to puzzle packets like Queer Crosswords and Women of Letters, as well as puzzles, games, and other products for raffles, Humble Bundles, and other projects.

And now, once again, puzzlers are stepping up to help others. In this case, it’s the victims of the wildfires in Australia.

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DriveThruRPG, a website loaded with resources, adventures, and other materials for roleplaying games, is partnering with dozens of game publishers, content creators, writers, artists, and designers for Fight Fires With Games!

Fight Fires With Games offers eight different charity bundles packed with deeply discounted RPG content, with all of the proceeds going to Red Cross of Australia and World Wildlife Fund Australia to aid in brushfire relief.

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The bundles range in price from $9.99 to $29.99, and often include hundreds of dollars in discounted content. So, if you’re an RPG enthusiast, it’s a win-win all around!

Every little bit helps, and it always warms my heart to see puzzlers step up again and again to support others in times of need.


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

Wendy’s Viral Marketing Victory (with a side of French fries)

Some of my all-time favorite puzzling experiences have been part of roleplaying games, so it warms my heart to see more and more people discovering Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop RPGs. Not only are they a wonderful way to connect with friends and tell stories, but they inspire me to create new and innovative puzzles.

Both the Netflix series Stranger Things and the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory have helped bring roleplaying games to greater mainstream attention (as shows like Community and Freaks and Geeks did in the past), and now, even fast food chains are getting in on the pencil, paper, and dice-loaded pastime.

Yes, Wendy’s has created its own roleplaying game.

Feast of Legends is a self-contained roleplaying adventure that is both staggeringly detailed and shamelessly self-promotional. This NINETY-SEVEN page downloadable PDF contains the rules for building your character, equipment, rules, setting details, and different character classes (like the Order of the Frosty or the Order of the Spicy Chicken Sandwich), each with their own bonus abilities.

It’s actually a terrific introduction to roleplaying games as a whole, discussing concepts like how many actions you can take on a given turn, how combat works, and which dice to use.

They even created an online dice roller for you to use if you don’t own roleplaying dice!

(For RPG aficionados, the system is reminiscent of both D&D’s fourth and fifth edition rulesets, though not nearly as involved, obviously.)

Once you’ve created your character — an easy task, given the streamlined (but effective) character creation instructions in the first half of the handbook — there’s an entire campaign included to play through!

Yes, a five-part adventure awaits players willing to explore Freshtovia, battle the evildoers who seek to force frozen beef on people across the land, from Costa del Spicy to Roast Beach, from The Box to Biggie Vale.

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Oh, you were curious about the shameless self-promotion? Trust me, we’re getting to that.

It starts with the setting — the mythical land of Freshtovia, in the realm of Beef’s Keep, where Queen Wendy requires your help to battle the monstrous threat of frozen beef. You can arm yourself with various implements (the spork caught my eye) as you prepare to do battle with the Ice Jester (a thinly veiled take on Ronald McDonald) and his minions, including violent versions of the Hamburglar (aka the Beef Bandit) and the Fry Guys.

Not only that, but there are rules regarding the bonuses you get for eating Wendy’s food while you play (as well as minuses for any characters eating from a different fast food chain during the game).

It’s seeded throughout the game, and on the website as well. On the page explaining how RPGs work, readers will find this text:

Beef’s Keep is a wide open world waiting for you to explore it. Make the world your own, expand your adventure, and most importantly, buy Wendy’s. Wait, we meant to say have fun. Also, buy Wendy’s.

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As a writer and a content creator, I was a little disappointed to see that this voluminous and impressive PDF was lacking in one crucial detail: credits for all the hard work that must’ve gone into it.

Yes, there is a brief credit near the end — illustrations by Alex Lopez, maps by Collin Fogel — and a few signatures and identifying marks hidden in some of the art, but what about the writing? What about the well-crafted adventure? What of all the puns?!

I really had to go hunting in order to track down who exactly deserves the kudos for this engagingly ridiculous endeavor. The credit belongs to the company VMLY&R and their Wendy’s team, including @TonyMarin and @SmugKeck.

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Designed to launch in time for New York Comic-Con — coinciding with a play-through on the popular webseries/podcast Critical Role — Feast of Legends seems like a rousing viral success.

Yes, there is naturally some pushback on the Internet — some for campaign donations made by the CEO of Wendy’s, some for how Wendy’s employees are treated — and some directed at the RPG itself, viewing it as a thinly-veiled propaganda tool (or an anti-union screed designed to brainwash the puny minds of roleplayers).

Politics and social issues aside, I’m calling this project a win. People that have never played a roleplaying game before have asked me about it, and roleplaying games in general are in the news because of this. If this brings more people into one of my favorite activities and opens up a new world of puzzles and games for them, then I thank Wendy’s for making that possible.

And yes, we’re probably going to end up playing this at the office at some point.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!