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Chevee Dodd on PULL!

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The Inquisitive Meeple
Chevee Dodd on PULL!

An interview with Chevee Dodd (designer of Gamewright's Scallywags) on his newest game PULL!: A Trap Shooting Card Game, currently on Kickstarter. PULL! is a 4 player partnership card game, inspired by trick taking games. It will also feature 2-4 player single play. The theme is clay pigeon skeet shooting.

Chevee, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what got you into tabletop gaming?

Chevee: I’m 35 years old, born and raised in a small West Virginia town. Like most small-town youth, I looked for escapes as a child. I discovered role playing games in the late 80’s and was immediately swept up in the fantasy of escape. That led me to Magic The Gathering in the early 90’s which led me to gaming conventions in the late 90’s and on to tabletop board gaming.

I have a wife of 11 years and two beautiful daughters who inspire me every day. When I’m not gaming, or working on games, I enjoy playing video games with my daughters, riding my motorcycle, spending time outdoors, and building things out of wood.

What are some of your favorite games?

Chevee: My all-time favorite game is Acquire. I love games with seemingly simple decisions that offer extreme depth. Acquire fits that bill very well for me and also incorporates a bit of social engineering… another of my favorite things. Following those guidelines, some more games that I love are Settlers of Catan, Coloretto, and Tichu.

Why do you design games?

Chevee: I’ve always been a creative person. Since I was a child I gravitated towards hobbies that let me build using my creativity… woodcraft, writing, poetry, art. Board games are an extension of all of my creative passions. I get to be artistic, intellectual, and physically creative all at once. When I’m done with a project, I get to share that creation with the world and allow others to participate in my creativity. That can be quite addictive.

You currently have a card game on Kickstarter called PULL! Could you tell us what type of game PULL! is, and give us an overview of how you play it?

Chevee: PULL! is a partnership card game which takes inspiration from classic trick-taking games such as spades or euchre. Players form two teams of two and are dealt a hand of Shot cards from a central deck. These cards range in value from 1 to 8 in six different suits. Each round, two Target cards are thrown (revealed) and players take turns playing Shot cards on these targets. The team which plays the highest value shot wins the Target and scores points as indicated on the Target card. Hand are played in this fashion until a set number of points are reached.

What is the story behind how PULL! was created?

Chevee: My creativity waxes and wanes constantly. Last year was a particularly bad year for me and I got fed up with it. I decided that I wanted to focus my efforts on some smaller projects that I could feasibly self-produce or sell on for a reasonable price. I turned to Twitter for inspiration and asked the community to give me some theme ideas for a small card game. Eric Handler responded quickly with an idea I couldn’t let go of: clay pigeon shooting with trick taking.

Did you know anything about Skeet Shooting going into the design?

[Chevee: I knew almost nothing about skeet shooting before starting this project. I've hunted my entire life and I spend a significant amount of time each year at various gun ranges... but I've never shot skeet. For instance, I didn't know there were multiple "official" methods of skeet shooting. This game is based off of "Sporting Clays" which is an English game where the shooter moves from station to station and shoots two targets from each. These targets are thrown in various directions which made up the suits in the game.

Why did you decide to make PULL! main game a partnership game?

Chevee: Originally, the deck was 60 cards… thus the 6 suits… and the intention was that the game would support 2-6. As I tested the early game more it was severely lacking important decisions. I introduced double-scoring for taking both targets in a round and it felt natural to play as partners, then, to introduce some creative “silent table talk” plays between teammates. Working within the artificial constraint of 72 cards (because reasons), changing to a partnership game also meant that I could shorten the 60 card deck to make room for a more variable set of Targets which proved to be a huge boon to the game.

There is a way to play 4 players without partners, as well a 2-3 players. Could you tell us the differences and how it is played?

Chevee: The main difference is that players are on their own when scoring. If a single player can take both targets in a round, they score the bonus points. This is much harder to do and relies more heavily on the deal of the cards and less on creative play. Some people won’t like it for that reason, but I feel like the game plays well enough to include it. Development of this game focused entirely on the partnership game, but I have tested it quite frequently with individual play, so it’s not a forgotten “step-child” type game.

In 2 player there is no “quick shot” simultaneous action for the 2nd target – why is this?

Chevee: There’s a couple different reasons for this. With only two players, there is a significant chance that your decision when playing the second card simply doesn’t matter. If both players play their first card on separate Targets, hiding the second card is almost entirely unnecessary. Additionally, only 20 cards of the 48 card deck are being used. That is an extreme level of randomness that can make the two player game extra wild. Having players alternate play helps tame it a bit. You are free to play it with the quick shot rule in place if you like.

So, the 2 player game, sounds like it is a bit random from you description - is it more of a game that you go into thinking of it as a light filler with some laughs?

Chevee: It’s still a game where the most skilled player will win in the long-run… but yes, it is lighter than a 4 player game.

One of the things that makes PULL! unique is that you are trying to capture not one, but two tricks at once, “shooting double.” Could you tell us how this works, why it was added and what you think it adds to the gameplay?

Chevee: So many of my game designs are born of a simple premise: what if I took this and changed this. That is essentially how PULL! started. I was asked to make a trick taking game of clay pigeon shooting. There’s not a lot of room to inject theme into trick taking and even less mechanics I can pull from something like trap shooting. The very first design thought I had, knowing a little bit about trap shooting, was simply what if there were two active tricks at a time. In trap shooting, it’s very common for two clay targets to be thrown… one for each barrel of the shotgun. In the partnership game, this gives the teams the ability to have a bit of “silent table talk” that is necessary in trick taking games. If I play first, and I play a 3 on one of the targets, chances are I’m telling you that I’m strong on the other target and that you should try to win this one. Those types of decisions really make partnership games tick.

How does the trump work in PULL!?

Chevee: Trump doesn’t work like other trick-taking games. There is no suit that always wins. Highest value wins, and trump wins ties. When playing your first card each round, you must follow suit with one of the two Targets in play. You get to choose which target to play on, and therefore which suit to follow, and that adds some interesting decisions.

In PULL! you do not deal out the whole deck, why did you decide to add this rule and what does it add to the gameplay?

Chevee: This was suggested by everyone that tested the game and I fought it for as long as I could. I like calculating things. I like being able to guess who has what cards after a few rounds of play and using that information to my advantage. Unfortunately, it just isn’t all that fun. Having some cards removed means that there is some uncertainty about whether all the 1’s or 8’s are in play and that can lead to some very fun moments that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

Could you explain how “distract” works and what it adds to the gameplay of PULL!?

Chevee: Without trumps, there is little room for coy plays. What this means is that you are rarely in danger of losing a Target when you play an 8. I introduced the Distraction rule as a way of adding some more uncertainty as well as interjecting a bit more theme into the game. It’s hard to shoot well when you are laughing at the idiot that just misfired into the dirt. I chose to use the 1 card for distractions because they are almost as important as 8’s. Playing a 1 on a wildlife card means that you won’t win that card and lose points… so now you have to decide how to play it and that can be a very interesting decision.

Could you explain what fouls are, how they work and what they add to the gameplay?

Chevee: Early on in development it became apparent that I needed to introduce some mechanism to make lower cards more important as well as add some variety to the Target deck. I came up with the idea of adding Targets that were worth negative points. Thematically it made sense that these targets should be animals that the players should never want to shoot. In many scenarios, however, it’s not always a disadvantage to take them as they are worth 0 points if you can score a double. I wanted to make that decision a bit more interesting as well as give you a reason to try and force them on the other team. Tracking Fouls and making them a larger detriment adds a subtle, but important strategy to how you play each round.

How does tracking fouls work in the game and why do you have to track them?

Chevee: When using the pencil and paper method, I like to keep track of Fouls with tick marks beside the teams score. Every 5th Foul is worth -20 points. Tracking them in some manner is only important until you reach 5 and then you can reset the count. It is possible to go from 4 to 6 Fouls in a single round, however, so you would need to go back to 1 instead of 0. When using the tick method, you don’t have to worry as much about resetting the score.

Speaking of scoring. Scoring is interesting as there are 2 numbers on cards you capture, could you explain how this works and why you added this feature in?

Chevee: This was one early development I came up with. Initially, points were points. If you took a target, you scored points. I wanted to give team play a bit of an edge, so I made scores double if you took both targets in a round. While this did add a bit of tactics to how you approach team play, the doubling was too great of a factor. I came up with the idea of having different values based on whether the team scored a single or both targets in a round. This allowed me to have more variance in the Target deck without increasing the number of cards. While taking both Targets is still generally a good strategy, there are times when taking a single target makes more sense because the point variance is greater.

On your blog you mention how important Crowd-source design was for this game. Could you first explain the term for those that have never heard it before and second explain why it was important for the development of PULL!?

Chevee: With rare exception, I work on almost everything I do with 100% transparency. I rely on the community to tell me when I’m wrong and in many cases, I take direct suggestions from them. This goes for both the game design and the graphic design as well. I Tweet constantly during my creation process and share larger bits on my website. I share every version of my prototypes as a print and play and let the community at large work with me to help make my games better. The payoff is remarkable. I sometimes get dozens of viewpoints that we can all bring together to make a game that is stronger for a larger audience instead of focused on a tiny subset. For PULL! this crowd-sourced design effort is responsible for not only how awesome the cards look, but for how well the game plays. If it wasn’t for the community, the game would not have developed as quickly as it did. I’d still be trying to figure out how to make it more engaging.

Many of your games are found on places like The Game Crafter – why did you decide to make this game different and actually Kickstart it?

Chevee: Most of the things I put on The Game Crafter are simply not suitable for publication by traditional means. I have many projects that I reserve for traditional publication and I spend convention season in pitch meetings and testing sessions each year. PULL! is one of those games that is practically impossible to find publication for because of it’s trick-taking roots… but the game is great. I could put it on The Game Crafter or [company=26392]DriveThruCards[/company] and just let it be, but I think there is a larger audience for this game and I want to see if the community believes that as well. Unlike some of my other print on demand products, I can produce this one economically without the need to source components from all over the globe. As a one-man show with an actual day job and an active family, it’s important to me to focus on projects that don’t require all my waking hours to fulfill.

What type of box are you hoping to place PULL! in – tuck or 2 piece?

Chevee: Initially the game will feature a tuck box. Being 72 cards, the box is oversized and because of this the bottom flap is glued… which is awesome. I’m not a fan of tuck boxes with flaps at both ends that make it difficult to get things back in the box. Depending on the level of support I receive, I could go to a telescoping box, but that’s going to take a huge level of support from the community.

One of the things that is posted on the Kickstarter page is you are printing this game in America. Why did you decide to print the game in the USA over say China, where most board games are printed now days?

Chevee: I'm a craftsman. I will always be a craftsman. The difference between a craftsman and a businessman is that I'm not as concerned about the bottom line as I am concerned about delivering a quality product. This means, I'm willing to forgo profits for my satisfaction. I'm also an ex-Marine. I am a patriot and I take pride in the quality products this country produces. Overseas manufacturers can make some excellent products and rock-bottom prices, but I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in supporting my fellow Americans. It's a personal choice... I choose to support American craftsmen.

You designed the art – what influenced you in designing the art for PULL! and what were you “shooting” for as far as graphical design?

Chevee: When designing the Shot deck, I wanted a clean and simple design that clearly shows the cards value and suit. I did not want the art and design to get in the way of play. It can be very easy to over compensate for the simplicity with detailed art and layout work that detracts the player from identifying the cards quickly. Keeping the pace of the game flowing is important when designing a game like this and if players are constantly pausing to identify cards, it slows the whole experience down. This is the reason I chose to have the cards value in opposite diagonal corners and an abstract card-back so players don't’ spend time orienting their cards after the deal. I looked to popular mass-market games such as UNO and Phase 10 for inspiration when designing the layout.

Designing the Target cards was really just an extension of the Shot cards. I wanted them to look similar, for easy identification, but be different enough that they wouldn’t get confused when sorting the cards after each round. When drawing the animals, I didn’t want to use realistic images due to the relative simplicity of the design, so I went with a simple cartoon style.

What do you think makes a good rulebook and do you think you have achieved your standards for a good rulebook?

Chevee: I prefer to write my rules in second person imperative. This allows me to avoid the pronoun problem of he/she/it/we/they but it also greatly reduces the wordiness of the text and improves clarity. I assume, entirely through anecdotal evidence, that at a given game table, only one player reads the rules for each game. Instructing that player with imperative sentences is very clear and concise. In addition, I like to format my rules so that each key point is only covered in one place.

I’m not done with the rules to PULL! yet, but I’m close. Hopefully, by the end of the campaign, I’ll have even more community involvement that will help make them a great example for future games in this genre.

What trick taking games, if any, inspired you when you were designing PULL!?

Chevee: I’ve played a great deal of spades and whist in my years. It would be hard to say that I didn’t pull inspiration from those games. Specifically, I needed to look at how they drive the players to make creative plays to make up for suboptimal hands.

So, PULL! is a classic “cards only” (well and a pad and pencil for scoring) style game. What other strictly card games, with pad and pencil scoring do you really like?

Chevee: My absolute favorite is Tichu. My regular group plays it weekly… sometimes it’s all we play. Climbing games like Tichu add an additional level of strategy by allowing the players to choose how to play their hand.

Since you are a climbing game fan, why did you choose not to make PULL! a climbing game instead of a non-traditional trick taking game?

Chevee: The theme. This game started as a theme+a mechanic as suggested by a follower. That theme gave me the immediate “twist” of two active tricks each round and I just went from there. I’m not even sure how I’d incorporate trap shooting into a climbing game. Maybe if it was about target shooting? Hmmm…..

One of the Kickstarter stretch goals is an mini-expansion of Animals Attack!. Could you share with us a little about what this is and what it will add to the game?

Chevee: Animals Attack! will bring 6 all new animals into the game with different values from the ones currently in the game and they may carry some special rules with them… still testing that part. Obviously, this would bring 6 more pieces of art into the game as well and I haven’t begun drawing them.

Could you give us a hint of what kind of animals we may see?

Chevee: These animals will be aggressive in nature. I don’t have a final list yet, as I’d like to get input from the backers, but likely things like bears, snakes, and badgers.

What about the micro-expansion “Shooters,” how will that work in terms of gameplay?

Chevee: I'm still testing the shooter cards, but the current version is extremely simple. Both of these cards are added to the Shot deck. One shooter is a value 9 card. Essentially, it guarantees that your team wins the trick. The second shooter is a value 0 with the added value that it also cancels your partners card in a team game... meaning that the opposing team automatically wins the trick. I have a few other tricks to try out with these cards but I am enjoying them so far.

Another Kickstarter stretch goal is the Foul tracker - could you explain if this will be tokens, or cards?

Chevee: The Foul Markers will be cards. I’d like to avoid making any non-card objects from this game (unless there is significant demand of course!) because many gamers like to sleeve their card games and store them in traditional card storage boxes. I’d love for the entire product to transport easily this way and not have some tokens floating around in your bag.

What was the best piece of advice from a playtester you received when prototyping PULL!?

Chevee: Early in development the game was… dull. It was a game, and it played, but I was clinging on to traditional trick-taking and I wanted the game to emulate those classics closely. Trump suits were a big part of that and after weeks of trying, I just couldn’t make them work. They were breaking the game. One of my local testers offered up the suggestion that really pushed the design forward: make trump only win ties. It is a rule that everyone struggles with at first because they are so used to traditional trick taking games… and that is the reason I haven’t been calling PULL! a trick-taking game, but rather a card game that’s inspired by trick-taking games.

What was your favorite part of designing PULL!

Chevee: The depth of support I’ve received from the community. PULL! has been one of my most tested games from the beginning. The support I’ve received for both the rules and graphic design is unbelievable. I’m used to having strangers blind-test my games, but I’ve received reports from almost a dozen different test groups and that’s just a phenomenal level of support. I’m constantly humbled by strangers. I owe them everything and this campaign is my tribute to this amazing community.

What was the most challenging part of designing PULL!

Chevee: Honestly, taking feedback. I play a ton of trick taking games. I absolutely love the genre and I take them very seriously. This is the first (and quite possibly the last!) time I have ventured into designing one. It has been exhausting to bring interesting dynamics into a genre that I so want to be more like Chess or dominoes. I had to let go of the desire to make a boring, but calculated game and bring in a more fun approach. Thanks to all the playtesters that talked some sense into me, the game is vastly superior to what I started with!

What was the biggest lesson you learned so far in designing this game?

Chevee: I’m not sure if this falls into the “designing this game” category or “working on this project” category… but I’ve learned how difficult it is to be a publisher. Unlike my other projects, I have to commit to this one. I can’t keep making changes after the game is released, so I have to be 100% confident in my work. Being that I’m the designer, artist, graphic designer, editor, and publisher on this one, I have to quadruple check everything that I do. I lean very heavily on the community to help me make sure that everything is error proof, but I can’t ask them to help me set up the campaign, manage my accounts, and file the appropriate paperwork. There is a ton of behind-the-scenes stuff that I just wasn’t aware of. It’s been a learning process that I plan on sharing through my blog very soon.

What makes PULL! unique among other trick taking games in your opinion?

Chevee: PULL! has just as much uniqueness as it does similarity to other trick taking games. In fact, I’ve tried to actively refer to the game as a card game that is inspired by trick taking games to make it clear they are very different. The key differences are things like 6 suits, two active tricks each round, the lack of a true trump suit, a separate deck that leads each trick, and external scoring mechanisms.

What were you design goals for PULL! outside of making a “good” or “fun” game and do you think you completed them?

Chevee: Well, I rarely enjoy playing my own games. I’m too self critical to enjoy the things I make. One of my personal goals was to design a game that I would actually play. I nailed that one. I legitimately enjoy playing PULL!. Outside of that, I really wanted to design a game that offered clever plays without requiring the players to feel like they are trying to solve a math problem each hand.

When you step back, and look at the finished version of PULL!, what makes you the most proud of the game, as its designer?

Chevee: When I first started development on the game, I asked the question on Twitter: What if there were two tricks a round? Quite a few designers chimed in that they had tried but were unable to figure that out. I had to step outside comfort of traditional, player-lead type games and figure out an interesting way for the game to lead the tricks without it making the players feel helpless. I’d like to think I figured that out and in fact, the Target deck provides quite a few interesting moments and memorable events.

In 12 words or less, finish this sentence: PULL! is ______________.

Chevee: a partnership style card game that delivers significant bang for the buck.

Is there a card game out there already published, that many of us may have never heard about, but you think we should go check out?

Chevee: If you can find it, Powerpuff Girls: Villains at Large is one of my absolute favorite card games. It’s out of print and difficult to find (check thrift stores) but that game is inspiringly simple in design. I even wrote a glaring review of it!

As for something that might be a bit more accessible, Wyatt Earp is generally lumped in with Mike Fitzgerald’sMystery Rummy series, but I find the game to be much more accessible than the others. It provides a smaller twist on rummy that makes the game fresh and interesting. My family loves it.

We mentioned earlier that many of your games are made by The Game Crafter. Could you first explain what The Game Crafter is for those that do not know, and secondly, could you recommend some games that people should check out that are published via The Game Crafter's website?

Chevee: The Game Crafter is a print on demand printer that is capable of printing all sorts of board-game related awesomeness and packaging it into complete games. Thanks to their awesome selection of bits and pieces, it is possible to create just about any game you'd like through their services. The best part is, being a print on demand service, you can order a single copy or a small run of hundreds! Some of my favorites are Matt Worden's Jump Gate, Plague from Grey Gnome Games, and City of Gears from Chris Leder (but don't tell him I'm promoting his game).

Also, before we go, you run a webcast called Something for Nothing, could you tell our readers about it and when they can catch it live on the web?

Chevee: Something From Nothing is a live show we broadcast every other week through Google Hangouts and YouTube. Our panel of regulars consists of Rob Couch, Jason Slingerland, TC Petty III, and myself. We have special guests each week and discuss all things game design. The focus of the show is to talk about our current projects but sometimes we get into discussions about hot topics in the hobby. Our next show will air May 4th at 2000 EST and every other Sunday thereafter. You can also find it on iTunes and there is a Geeklist here on Board Game Geek that catalogs all the YouTube videos as well as the MP3s.

What game are you most looking forward (that is not yours)that is coming out in 2014?

Chevee: I’m really excited to see what AEG does with Doomtown. I thought there were some great mechanics in the original CCG that needed slightly better execution and presentation and what they’ve shown so far have been great. I am excited to see more big-name publishers getting in on the “Living Card Game” model.

Do you have any other games on the horizon (2014- early 2015) we should be the look out for?

Chevee: I always have quite a few projects in flux. Currently, I have two sitting with publishers waiting to be greenlit and six or so in active development. There is a possibility that I’ll run another Kickstarter later this year for a light, 2 player zombie card game I’ve been working on, but I don’t deal well with stress and I’d like to limit the amount of pressure I put on myself. Believe it or not, running a proper Kickstarter campaign is a TON of work!

Is there anything else you would like to add, as we wrap this up?

Chevee: This has been an awesome interview! Thanks so much for asking such great questions! If you want to read more, I write extensively about my designs, and host my web show Something From Nothing on my website at I am always open to helping other designers. If you reach out to me, I WILL answer your emails/tweets and I’ll do everything I can to assist you in your design efforts. (But please, no solicitation. I don’t like that so much.)

Thanks Chevee, for taking time out to do this interview. Good Luck on your first game to hit Kickstarter!

If you are interested in PULL!, you can click here to be taken to the Kickstarter. The Kickstarter will be running until May 20, 2014.

What's that you say? Inquiring meeples want to know more?
You may want to check out these links:

Chevee Dodd's official website

Chevee Dodd's Game Catalog on The Game Crafter

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