2020 brought us a global pandemic and, along with it, social distancing, masks, financial uncertainty and postponed delivery dates. For our end-of-the-year special we decided to turn to some of our favourite solo and soloable game designers and ask them to share their own experiences, feelings, plans and hopes both for the year we leave behind and the year to come. Every day since December 23 we have published one of these short interviews (we have no patience for long ones). Our last guest is R. Eric Reuss, designer of Spirit Island. He was kind enough to answer our 3+1 questions.
1. Nobody likes being forced to stay at home, but did the quarantine actually help you concentrate on your design work? Or did it instead feel restraining and cause designer's block? Did you miss any face-to-face meetings or conventions?
It's made things much more difficult. The news about the pandemic was super-distracting (at least for the first month or two), the preparations and ongoing care around masks / errands / supplies have used up attention, the worrying has used up cope, I'm an extrovert so it's denied me one of my primary recharging mechanisms, and to top it all off I've got two grade-school kids who are at home instead of at school and for whom I can hire no babysitting. I'm used to doing my initial creative work away from my home office (coffeeshops, libraries, etc), and the conventions I usually attend - which are a delightful combination of work, leisure, and professional development - all had to be canceled or turn into pale online shadows of themselves.
Going into 2020, I was iterating on 1-2 different projects every month, and had a whole suite of games I was psyched to work on. Since the pandemic, the only games I've managed to get much done on have been titles already in the publishing queue. (For SCIENCE! and Spirit Island expansions.) Part of that is because For SCIENCE! went to Kickstarter in April... but much of it has been the pandemic.
2. Marie Kondo shows up in your dream in the form of a yokai. She is throwing away your entire board game collection and only lets you keep one game: the one that 'sparks the most joy'. Which one is it?
If I can choose my own games, that's easy: Spirit Island. I love playing it for fun, and also really enjoy working on it.
If I can't, probably Argent: the Consortium. I love the gameplay (and the variety), but it's not just that; I have many pleasant associations with the game - both of playing it with friends, of testing it back when it was in prototype form, and in seeing Trey Chambers go through the process of getting it signed and published.
If I can't even choose a game whose designer I know, then probably Santorini (the 2016 Roxley version). It's lovely to look at, has a wonderful toy factor, extremely good gameplay, and loads of variety. And again, I have joyful associations - of playing it with a companion in a burger joint and getting lots of bystanders admiring it / asking about it, playing it with my kids, etc.
3. We are a news website, so we will obviously ask you to share your plans for 2021. Anything us solo gamers can look forward to?
For SCIENCE! will be coming out sometime early in the year - hopefully the printing will beat Chinese New Year's? It plays well solo, though the game has a very different feel between large and small player-counts. In bigger groups, it's chaotic, noisy, all over the place; there's this great sense of team accomplishment and a thematic sense of panic, but there's too much going on for one person to keep track of it all, and effective communication is part of the challenge. In smaller groups - particularly solo - it's a much more focused experience. The time limit keeps the pressure on, but it's a lot quieter, and obviously communication is a complete non-issue in solo. But unlike larger games where you can specialize/focus on just one part of play, in solo you have to be able to switch contexts, swapping back and forth between all the game's tasks.
I'll be doing a fair bit of Spirit Island work in 2021: some content for a small Spirit Island expansion, and laying groundwork / reading / doing design for an eventual Dahan-centric expansion. Those will be solo-relevant at some point!
And hopefully, I'll get to work on some other designs as well? But I can't predict which ones they'll be, nor whether they'll be great solo experiences or not.
Yes, two or three times, and I've quite enjoyed it! But every time, it had been so long between plays that I needed to nearly re-learn the game from scratch, which was less enjoyable, particularly when nobody else was playing who knew the game any better than I did.
Thank you very much for participating, Eric! All the best wishes for 2021. Where can our readers follow you online?
I've (finally!) gotten my professional website up and running at REricReuss.com.