As a kid, I used to stay over at my grandparents’ place after school. There was a sizeable bit of land where my grandmother tended to her plants, and a large tree overhanging. Every day, after I was done with my homework, I would rush to the garden and play with my cousins. It was in the early 21st century, so we played with sticks and crushed dried leaves.
I was the kid who ended up getting glasses over Super Mario Bros, and also the kid who strung bits of string into a pulley system for carrying valuable plush toys, of course! Sometimes I dug and yanked out weeds — for “selling” them. So when I was given the opportunity to interview Dávid Turczi, whose latest offering Excavation Earth hits Kickstarter on April 6th, I dove right into it.
My inner archeologist was itching to dig into the secrets Dávid and his game had to offer — and I found plenty. We Skyped on a sunny morning in the Netherlands, where he currently resides. Dávid’s eagerness to speak of his principles of design and the history behind it certainly made the interview very engaging for me as I had to pause him a couple of times to jot down notes.
Sara: You’ve played plenty of games — which are your Top 3?
Dávid: I wouldn’t say I have a Top 3 per se, but I do have a list of games I really enjoy, like Brass: Birmingham, Race For The Galaxy, Concordia, the list goes on.
Sara: Did you have a memorable moment (or moments) where you decided that game design was to be your career path?
Dávid: 10 years ago, a friend of mine was designing a board game during summer vacation, and he asked me to help. It soon became full-time, after I realised I’d much rather be designing games than being in the office. I released my first game [redacted], and then went on to design Anachrony with my friends who are now Mindclash Games. A lot of grit and shamelessness was involved.
Sara: Your design history has spanned a number of themes — history, nature, food, as well as mechanics like write & roll, drafting, and worker placement. Is there a particular theme / mechanic that really inspires you to push the boundaries of what can be done?
Dávid: I’m not really a theme nor a mechanic person, but David Chircop (Petrichor) was really about getting a game done based on a theme. I am a person who likes to improve and improvise upon already present concepts to form new ones! For example, with Dice Settlers, it was inspired by the gameplay of both Quarriors and Eminent Domain. With Anachrony, it began with the system that I designed and the exosuits themselves evolved with them.
Sara: So, it’s like making variations on the things you like?
Dávid: Exactly! I take a bit from Game A and a bit from Game B, tinker with both concepts as well as adding my own flair to it — transforming it into a brand-new game!
Sara: You are well-known for creating solo modes in collaboration with many renowned designers. Your own designs for solo games have been met with acclaim. How was the thought process for the solo mode from start to finish like?
Dávid: I actually do not enjoy solo gaming (laughs) — it started when we were planning for the original Anachrony. A team member suggests that I do a solo mode which ended up being a widely-acclaimed solo mode in the community.
I made it engaging and interactive by remodelling what I didn’t like in such modes. Most solo modes require you to guess what the bot is going to do next, and you can’t plan ahead because you’re relying on chance to execute your next move. With Anachrony’s solo mode, you are able to feel great about outsmarting the bot without such a worry.
For example, if you were to claim a spot with your worker, the bot will not be able to take that spot or action, unlike most solo modes. It’s a form of ‘curve optimisation’.
Sara: It certainly does make it much more so! Why in particular design solo modes?
Dávid: I was also assisting with the design of some games — with regards to Teotihuacan: City of Gods (Daniele Tascini), I ended up designing their solo mode as well. It soon became me using one-third of my time playing other peoples’ games and designing solo modes for them.
That’s how I became the solo guy! (laughs)
Sara: Did it vary from doing it for your own game versus collaborating with other designers?
Dávid: It doesn’t change regardless of who I’m designing for. If it’s one of my own, I would finish the base game, then take off my designer hat and replace it with a solo hat.
Sara: What is the appeal or challenge of designing such a game, be it for your own or others?
Dávid: I look for and design points of interaction within the game — as stated earlier, this is important to me as much as how I can condense the essence of competition.
Sara: With your upcoming game Excavation Earth, what did you learn from your previous designs and how did you adapt it into this game?
Dávid: A lot of the time a designer is very attached to their creation, and a critical eye is often needed to improve it. I soon learned to be critical of my own work in a much shorter time. With the many collaborations I have done, I asked myself: “How can I critique my own work the way I do with others?”
The idea for Excavation Earth came from my then-wife’s idea, of which she woke me in the early morning excited about a game she had thought of. Through the haze of 4 a.m. sleep, I nodded and told her I’d love to execute it — and went back to sleep.
Time passed, and the more I thought about it, the more I felt the potential, resulting in Excavation Earth. The early prototype looked nothing like what you see as the finished product — and in those stages I felt that even though it was finished, it didn’t feel “good enough”.
With a critical eye, and some help in understanding what to remove, add, or leave be — the game becomes a whole level better.
Sara: What can we look forward to in Excavation Earth?
Dávid: The basic rundown of the game is that you take on the role of alien archeologists who sell quaint artefacts from primitive civilisations, like the Planet Earth, which is now extinct. The components are cards, which contain both a colour and an icon. Cards are how you perform actions.Then you have markets, which are marked with an icon — and the artefacts themselves are marked with a specific colour. Both of these correspond to the action cards.
For example, you can play a card to influence the particular market you are in if it corresponds to the symbol on the card. What this does to the coloured meeples that represent the market is adding that particular coloured meeple to the market, and removing the oldest one. If the dominant colour in a specific market is yours, sold artefacts are worth more.
You also have your own player board, where you can score points for each completed column, and each row of collected artefacts, and this applies even when it has been sold. Think of it as a sample gallery. This allows for Excavation Earth to have a high level of interactivity and replayability.
Sara: Describe Excavation Earth in five words.
Dávid: Well, I can’t do it in five words, but a single sentence summary would be — Alien archeologists sell extinct human artefacts on the galactic market for lots of money.
I’m eagerly awaiting what will come from Excavation Earth’s project launch by publisher Mighty Boards — as we dig further into the realms beyond and perhaps a few closer to home.
If you’d like to support Excavation Earth, are a huge fan of space-based markets, and gorgeous art — do consider backing their Kickstarter, which will be live until the Wednesday of April 29 2020, 8:00 PM AWST (12:00 PM GMT).
Hopefully in the near future, I’ll be able to bring you an in-depth review of the game itself and how this conversation with Dávid has given me a new perspective on board games in general. At this point of writing, I am sitting outside the gates of the Excavation Earth project page, begging to be let in.
I might even dig a tunnel.