Designer’s Dozen: Q&A interview with Rob Daviau

Rob Daviau is an award-winning game designer and developer, as well as co-host of the excellent podcast The Game Design Round Table.

In the business since 1998, he has designed and published more than 70 titles across genres, from children’s to family to hobby games.

While at Hasbro he worked on titles including Heroscape, Risk Legacy, Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit and Betrayal at House on the Hill; and since leaving the company Seafall and Pandemic: Legacy.

This is the sixth in a series of Q&As with published board game designers. The idea is to ask them all the same set of questions, so people can compare the answers and build an insight into what makes designers tick – alongside a stock of answers to questions all new designers will end up facing themselves.

1. If not games design, what pays the bills? Do you do anything else creative outside of games design, paid or unpaid?
I’m a full-time games designer and have been for 18 years. The first 14 were with Hasbro so the bills were paid no matter how well my games did. It’s been a bit trickier since I’ve been on my own. Outside of games, I cook and parent and travel. Mostly I just unwind from a day of creativity.

2. Who is your favourite designer(s), and which one do you most admire? What is your favourite design(s) by them?
I enjoy Gary Gygax, Dave Lebling, JJ Abrams, Chris Claremont and a host of others who shaped my childhood. I don’t get into which designers I enjoy these days because I’ll inevitably leave out someone I shouldn’t and then run into them.

3. What drew you to game design?
I was very much into D&D as a kid and always had a love for rpgs. The board game design job was an unexpected side track when I answered an ad for Hasbro in 1998. It was a near adjacency and I am delighted that it happened.

4. When you design, what tends to come first – theme or mechanisms? And why? Do you design with a specific type of person in mind?
Theme and experience first. Mechanics are then a challenge.

I don’t enjoy – nor am I particularly good at – mechanics in a vacuum. It’s all very dry and formless unless I know what I want the them and experience to be.

Also, I don’t design games for the same person but I do design each game for a particular player. The player in my head for Pandemic Legacy is different than Seafall is different than Stop Thief.

5. What are the best and worst aspects of game design?
Starting a new game is exciting. Having that first prototype, something you’ve created from nothing. Then it isn’t as fun when it doesn’t work. And then it works. And then it doesn’t. And back and forth between the agony and the ecstasy until it’s done.

6. What is the hardest type of game for you to design?
Anything abstract or minimally themed. Once I get stuck I don’t really know how to get unstuck.

7. What is your best prototyping tip for a budding designer?
Please don’t make it look good until late in the process. Pen and paper are your best friends. Of course, sometimes it’s fun to make it look pretty as a way of doing something on the game but you don’t have any good ideas.

8. Would you mind sharing your worst publisher game pitching moment?
One publisher turned to their staff after the game and asked them to rate the game from 1 to 10 after playing a demo. It was super awkward as I was sitting there and they felt stuck.

9. And what has been your best game design moment?
Reading the first review of Risk Legacy while on my honeymoon in Hawaii.

10. Which style of game is your own personal favourite to play?
Anything that tells a good story.

11. What would make the tabletop gaming landscape a better place?
A really good, easy solution to learning how to play the game other than reading the rules.

12. Tell us something about yourself we probably wouldn’t know.
I can do a fair variety of voices and accents.

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