I want to thank Kevin for taking time out of his schedule to talk with me, because with all his current and upcoming work I am not sure how he has any time for sleep!
jdodson: Hey Kevin, thanks for doing the interview. Can you explain a bit about who you are and what you do for people that might not be familiar with your work?
Kevin Wilson: I originally got my start in the game industry at Alderac Entertainment Group, where I worked on the 7th Sea and Spycraft RPGs, but I'm probably best known for the board and card game design work I did for Fantasy Flight Games over ten years, including designing Doom: the Board Game, Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Sid Meier's Civilization: the Board Game, and Android, co-designing Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, and developing the new editions of Cosmic Encounter and Wiz-War.
I've been freelancing for the past four years, and have done several more games including X-Files and Awesome Kingdom (IDW Games), Darkness Comes Rattling (Wyrd Games), and I have a whole slew of upcoming releases, including Arcane Academy (IDW), which I co-designed with my friend Eric Lang.
jdodson: Coming off the massive Kickstarter success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past where are you at right now in the process with the game?
Kevin Wilson:I'm working on the scenarios for the first few hero packs for the game. The base set is fully completed and we're just waiting to get it back from the printer now.
jdodson: Working with the Ninja Turtles and Kevin Eastman is pretty incredible how did you get involved in the process?
Kevin Wilson: When IDW Games approached me to work on X-Files, they also asked me if there were any other IPs they owned that I wanted to work on, and I immediately replied "TMNT." I then pestered them for a year or so about it until they finally gave in and let me design it.
jdodson: Do you remember one of your first experiences with the Ninja Turtles comic book, cartoon or films?
Kevin Wilson: My earliest Turtles experience was watching the 80s cartoon after school as a kid. I latched on to Donatello almost instantly as my favorite, and I've loved the turtles ever since. Later on, my roleplaying group tried out the Palladium TMNT RPG, and I played a Scottish terrier mutant in it. Good, silly fun.
jdodson: How has Kevin Eastman has been involved with Shadows of the Past?
Kevin Wilson: Kevin had oversight on all the thematic elements of the game and the look to make sure we were nailing it. He had a lot of very nice things to say about how the design captures the personality of the turtles, so I was pleased as punch about that. We hung out for a few hours at the GAMA Trade Show this year while we did signings, too, and that ranks high on my list of favorite memories.
jdodson: When you were designing Shadows of the Past what elements did you feel you had to get right to make sure the game was authentic to the source material?
Kevin Wilson: Obviously, I felt I had to really deliver the personalities of the characters, but I also really wanted to make sure the turtles felt like brothers - that you could really feel how closely they work together. That's where the dice sharing mechanic came from, where basically the turtles to your left and right share one of your action dice each, which really gives a strong feeling of supporting each others' actions. Well, except for Raphael...
jdodson: I know the game hasn’t launched yet but since the Turtles game was such a huge Kickstarter you must have at least personally considered creating an expansion for it. If you were looking to the future what kinds of things might you explore for a future Turtles game? Also, is there talk of releasing multiple expansions due to it’s popularity?
Kevin Wilson: I'd like to see the TMNT Board Game continue for several years at least, with us adding all the different villains and heroes that we couldn't squeeze into the base set. We do have some plans for an expansion called Cityfall that will introduce some of the elements of the storyline of the same name from the IDW TMNT comic series, and I want to develop an AI deck for the villains that will let players try the game as a full co-op instead of a one vs. many design, but I want to make sure that when I do that, I deliver a really good AI mechanic.
jdodson: There were some Kickstarter exclusives such as the special edition Box and April O’Neil hero pack that look really interesting. For fans that may be late to the Kickstarter have there been any discussions to make these exclusives available at a certain time?
Kevin Wilson: The hero packs only had Kickstarter-exclusive miniatures, which possibly wasn't communicated as clear as possible. The hero packs will most likely appear again in some form with new sculpts. I've tried hard to make sure that there are few or no mechanical exclusives for the Kickstarter, only aesthetic exclusives. That way backers get cool stuff, but folks who buy the retail edition don't get left out in the cold.
jdodson: When you work with an artist on a board game cover how much thought do you put into how it sits on a game store shelf and how likely people are to be intrigued by what they see?
Kevin Wilson: Heh, I usually have very little to do with the title or cover of my games. Those things are normally handled by the publisher's management or marketing department. That's not always the case, of course, as Little Circuses and Escape from 100 Million B.C.! are two games coming from IDW that kept my original titles.
jdodson: You have talked a about diversity in games and how you approach that. Do you have any guiding principles that help when you are working on your initial game concept to final product?
Kevin Wilson: I've had to become a lot more self-aware of my own assumptions and of the assumptions that artists make. If you give a basic art description and don't mention gender or race, you're pretty much getting a white male back 99% of the time.
So I've had to start being more careful about that. I also keep a much tighter watch on how women are depicted in my games these days. I want heroines to inspire a young girl, not for her older brother to ogle. The hobby is growing and I think it's important, as well as good business, for game creators to include everyone who wants to play.
jdodson: Looking back at any of your published games would you tweak something if you could knowing how it turned out for people that have played it?
Kevin Wilson: Of course. There's not a single game I've done that I'm perfectly satisfied with. You do your best in the time you have to work on them, but there's always little things that slip through the cracks, and better ideas that you think of when it's too late. That's just how it is when you're doing anything creative if you keep trying to push yourself to get better and better.
jdodson: As a long time Twitter follower I am curious to know more about your project Frontier “Space Opera” board game. When I think of space opera a few things come to mind and maybe you could give us a few hints as to what this may be? Maybe a special exclusive reveal perhaps?
Kevin Wilson: It's a 2-player card game of planetary conquest between different alien races. Rather than a big sprawling board, however, it's more like a knife fight in a phone booth. It plays fast and has a lot of replayability, and I've already thought of 8 alien races for it. I'm currently still shopping it around to publishers and ironing out the game balance between races, so it'll be awhile before it makes it to market.
jdodson: For quite some time now you’ve been collaborating with IDW Games on nearly all of your recent board game releases. What’s it like working with them and how open are they to you pitching your new games to them?
Kevin Wilson: IDW has been great to work with. They're very open to my ideas and they try hard to make sure I'm satisfied with the quality of the releases I'm doing with them. Nate Murray in particular has worked himself to the bone on my stuff, so here's a big thank you to him for that! You rock, Nate!
jdodson: Speaking of successful Kickstarters you’re involved in, Mistborn: House War was recently funded so congratulations on that. With this and the Turtles Kickstarter at what point do you realize that a game you are designing should be Kickstarted? What kinds of games don’t make sense to Kickstart?
Kevin Wilson: Typically, I'm not making the decision whether or not to kickstart a game. It's mostly based on the publisher's financial situation and level of risk they're comfortable with. As for which games do best on Kickstarter, I'd say that well-recognized licensed games and miniature-heavy games are the best bets. Games that aren't as physically impressive and which lack name recognition definitely tend to suffer.
So for Mistborn, although there weren't a ton of fancy miniatures like in the TMNT game, there was still an extremely loyal fanbase that was excited to get a game that takes place in the Mistborn setting. Crafty Games also ran a very tight campaign, which helped the game do really well.
jdodson: What stands out to you as something important that makes a Kevin Wilson game?
Kevin Wilson: Even when the game is intended for a lighter audience, I try to bring something clever to each of my designs, whether it's the dice in Doom: the Board Game, the skill sliders in Arkham Horror, or the tech pyramid in Sid Meier's Civilization: the Board Game. In addition, I really enjoy including storytelling elements in my games. I love planting story seeds here and there in the designs and leaving them for players to find. I also really like it when I get to do some worldbuilding for a game, but that's less frequent than I'd prefer.
jdodson: So I think maybe everyone on earth watched the new Star Wars The Force Awakens. It’s a great movie and I really liked it a lot. That said, one thing some of my friends and I can’t shake is… why another Death Star? Like if you count The Phantom Menace “sort of Death Star like space battle” and subsequent blowing it up from inside thing that’s like 4 Death Stars. Why do bad guys think yet another Death Star will be the ticket? I mean this one was super big and had it’s own independent sheild generator so they upgraded it from Jedi but still…. Why a fourth Death Star Kevin? I need closure. Do you think the first order will create even more Death Stars and if so what would be the hook?
Kevin Wilson: Well, when you start with a weapon that can destroy a planet in a single shot, where do you go from there? That's why they went with another Death Star in Return of the Jedi. And technically, they upped the stakes to entire solar systems in a single shot in The Force Awakens, so maybe next time they'll have a solar system-sized gun that blows up whole galaxies!
jdodson: Thanks for taking the time to do this Kevin, I really appreciate it. Anything you want to say before we finish up?
Kevin Wilson: Just a heads up. The next 12 months or so are going to see a TON of releases from me - most of which I can't talk about just yet due to NDAs. Anyone who wants to keep up with my release schedule should follow me on twitter (@KevinWilson42 - http://twitter.com/kevinwilson42). I make sure to announce any new and upcoming releases there once I'm allowed to talk about them.
**If you want to read my previous two interviews with Kevin where I gush more about Doom: The Board Game you can read those below. Because you should. For science.**