Great Heartland Hauling Co.
Welcome to the first installment of the PGZ Designer Interviews!!! These will be posted on the first Friday of every month. I thought we would start with Great Heartland Hauling Co. from Dice Hate Me Games because it’s close to shipping to Kickstarter backers and stores.
I borrowed a little time from designer Jason Kotarski to talk about his game and some other things.
Tell us a little about The Great Heartland Hauling Co.
Sure! The Great Heartland Hauling Co. is a game where you drive an 18-wheeler around the Midwest picking up and delivering goods to try to earn the most cash. In the game, players move around a modular board that is made of cards. Each of the cards that makes up the board has a native good available and has a need for two other goods. On each turn, players move by playing Fuel Cards, choose to pick up or deliver goods using Freight Bill cards, and then draw some new cards. It’s a little game that provides lots of choices and re-playability and it comes in a super portable box. It plays 2-4 players and is being published by Dice Hate Me Games, and if you have seen their other games, you know that means top-notch production values! A boat filled with copies of Heartland Hauling was scheduled to hit shores this week so it should be in stores in the next month or so after all of the Kickstarter backers’ copies get shipped out.
What’s your design process? Obviously, in this case you started with theme. Is that how you prefer to start a game design?
In general, I do like to start with a theme. Usually a theme will bring some mechanics ideas to mind that give me a sense of direction and I go from there. Once I have a theme, I try to combine different mechanics that feel fresh in some way while still being moderately connected to the theme. For me, to start with mechanics and add a theme later would be like starting with a math problem, which doesn’t really work for me. Get me moving some bits around and playing pretend and I’ll do math without feeling like it’s doing math. That’s what works for me, anyway.
Were there any issues or roadblocks? How about eureka moments?
The only real roadblock I can think of was early in the process when I had signed with a different publisher and the process got hung up for a long time. I started to wonder if it was ever going to get released, so I asked for the rights back and got really lucky in connecting with Dice Hate Me, who were super enthusiastic and kicked the whole process into high gear. Game publishing can be a long process and I wasn’t quite prepared for that, so it has been a huge learning opportunity for me.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten on game design?
I don’t know if this was specific advice or just something I picked up somewhere along the way, but I think learning to sort the essential from the non-essential is key. You can add all the bells and whistles you want to your design, but if it isn’t fun when boiled down to the core ideas, it isn’t going to be better just because you add more. So I try to keep it simple and move slowly from there, looking at each potential addition and ask if it is really going to enhance the experience or not.
What’s the most important thing you’ve discovered on your own?
I guess I’ve learned a bit about having to be involved and active in nearly every step of the process. In such a small, niche industry you have to do a little bit of everything and try to do it well. I have to be a good communicator, a marketer, an idea guy, a gamer, a designer, and a business person all at once. I think this suits my skill set well, but I didn’t expect it to be so hands-on. I am glad it is, though, because that makes it more fun!
Can you tell us about any other designs you’re working on?
I have a game coming out with White Goblin Games at the end of the year, but I can’t say too much about that yet. I also have been working on a rummy game, a kid’s game, and a social-hidden-roles-meets-abstract game that I’m calling Sunset Shuffle. In Sunset Shuffle, you are a family of tourists trying to sneak your family members into the best positions on the beach to see a great sunset. I’m just getting to the play-testing phase of that project, so it has a long way to go.
It’s game night. Where does Heartland Hauling fit? What goes best with it?
I’d say it works well as a gateway game to introduce to new gamers and also works really well for folks who have 40 minutes or so to get a quick game that has quite a bit if substance in the midst of its simplicity. It’s also a great couples game. And it goes great with beef jerky and gas station coffee! Game-wise, you could put it alongside the likes of Ticket to Ride and the Kosmos 2-player Series (even though it plays up to 4).
What’s your favorite game hitting the table these days?
I have really been enjoying Lords of Waterdeep and Smash Up, mostly because they are games my wife loves to play with me that I didn’t think she’d enjoy. I’ve also been excited about racing games. I just got into Ave Caesar and I’m really enjoying that. It’s fun and easy to teach to non-gamers.
What’s your favorite game not hitting the table?
Hmmmm…Probably Knizia’s Winner’s Circle. I love that game, but I don’t own it and it’s out of print, so I have to rely on my friends in Ann Arbor for that one. I don’t want to make them play it every time we get together since there are so many games to play and so little time!
You’re heading into space and only have enough fuel to take 5 games. What games do you NEED to bring with you?
That’s tough. I’ll do my best: Ticket to Ride: Marklin, Dominion, 6 Nimmt!, Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper, and Glen More.
That wraps it up. Thanks!