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David Harding on Elevenses

The Inquisitive Meeple
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The Inquisitive Meeple
David Harding on Elevenses

Interview with David Harding on his upcoming 2014 release Elevenses. The game is being published by his brother's (Phil Walker-Harding of Sushi Go fame) company, Adventureland Games. Elevenses is a 2-4 player game, card game about socialites and their morning tea in the 1920's.

David, could you share a little with us about yourself and what got you into tabletop gaming?

David: Sure! One of my fondest childhood memories was Friday night game night with my parents and younger brother. I'm not sure how long we did this for, but I remember it started while we lived in America ('89-'93) and then afterwards back in Australia. There were two cool things about it - having fun playing board games, and, the fact that my brother and I were allowed to stay up after our sisters had gone to bed. ("Nyah-nyah-nyi-nyah-nyah! You have to go to be-e-ed!") Some of the games we had lots of fun with at this time were: Scotland Yard, Anti-Monopoly 2 (regular Monopoly was below us), The Mad Magazine Game, and of course, games like Clue,Uno, and all the rest.

Meanwhile, my brother and I would play many games on our own, such as Battleship, Fireball Island, and many of the TV show tie-ins that came out in the 80s and 90s. I remember enjoying Chess with my Dad and Park and Shop with my Mum when we'd visit our grandparents. My Dad even had a Diplomacy set which I'd play around with. Despite all this, however, games in my family were pretty much considered as "kids stuff" and we all grew out of them over time. But obviously the gaming seeds that were planted in my youth grew into a glorious, lush forest. In mid-2007, my brother brought over Catan and my brain exploded. It amazed me. So familiar yet so brilliant. He quickly followed that with Carcassonne, Blokus, Wits & Wages, For Sale, St. Petersburg and Guillotine and I was hooked.

What are some of your favorite games to play currently?

David: My wife has just begun playing games with me semi-regularly and she enjoys Castles of Burgundy, Via Appia and Agricola: All Creatures Big & Small so I'm loving them, too. As well as this, I've been playing a lot of Coup, DC Deckbuilding Game, Spyrium, and anything by Stefan Feld. I love Android Netrunner and would play it every week but have no one to play it with. Speaking of having no one else around (it happens quite a lot), I also like Friday, Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game and SOS Titanic to play solo.

What in your opinion makes a game fun?

David: Argh. My tastes are so broad it is hard to pin this down. Without being specific, I have fun when games take me away from myself. I like to be immersed in the experience, BUT this doesn't mean I like thematic games - I own, like, two of them. Long, dry euros and small but deep card games are definitely my two fortes. I like having meaningful and tough choices to make. Social interaction when gaming is great but it isn't all-important for me. Exercising my brain to solve problems and make strategic decisions is. I see games as being like machines. You set it up and it runs, taking you along for the ride. I love that about games - watching how the pieces fit and flow together.

So, this year, you have a game being released called Elevenses. Could you tell us a little bit about what type of game it is and give us an overview on how it is played?

David: Elevenses is a card game about hosting a tea party! (Deal with it - it's true!) It is totally not the sort of game I ever thought I would design, but it's just what happened - the mechanics and theme really work well together.

This is a small card game where each player has identical 11-card decks. At the start of a round, players shuffle their decks, lay eight cards face-down in front of them in a rectangle (as their table) and hold the other three in their hand (their kitchen). The goal, by playing and taking cards from your table, is to serve the most delicious morning tea before 11 o'clock. The best teas score different amounts of sugar cubes. Rounds are relatively short and you play until someone has scored seven cubes and has served the most delicious teas in the district.

Cards are played from your Kitchen to the table. Each card has an action to follow, a number of teaspoons (0-3) that go towards showing how grand your tea party is, and a number that dictates where on your table the card must be placed. You can never put two of the same card in your tea party (that would be pretentious, darling) and when playing cards numbered 2-9 you add to your Kitchen the face-down card that it replaced on your table. The Elevenses card (#11) ends the round and any player can play it after they reach a certain score with their morning tea. This means players are on the edge of their seats and, often, players will play it in order to secure second place in the round - that's how tough the choices in this game are.

The name comes from having eleven cards, as well as the fact that Elevenses is a term for morning tea in the UK.

What is the story behind the creation of the game? And did the theme or mechanics come first?

David: About eighteen months ago I had heard of Love Letter but had never seen it. I knew there were sixteen cards in it and I thought, "I can beat that!" I started thinking of a game with ten cards, with each card bearing a different event (I was loving Innovation at the time). Then the thought to add an eleventh card that sort of trumped the others came about. Then, in a matter of about a second, came many ideas at once: "It could be called Elevenses - so it could be a game about morning tea - and TJ could illustrate it - she loves drawing cupcakes!"

The first draft came very quickly as the theme dictated the mechanics. But the mechanics began to dictate the gameplay, too - each player needed their own set of cards for it to work, which brought the total number of cards to 44 - more than Love Letter which was a bit disappointing... sniff. Other things changed too. For example, originally, you couldn't play the Tea card until you had played the Boil the Kettle card and so on, and this, though thematic, bogged the game down so we dropped the hierarchy requirements of playing the different cards.

In Elevenses the different cards in the game have different powers – what would you say your favorite card is?

David: It's hard to pick one because the idea from the very beginning was ensuring every card was balanced. The choice in playing a card has always been, "Do I play this card for few points because it has a great action, or do I play this one that might hurt me but will give me lots of points?" I love this about the game - every turn, every player will have a difficult choice to make, and as I said before, this is something I love in a game. But if I had to pick... I'd say the Servants card - I love the art on that one. It's also interesting in that (like the Tea Trolley card) you don't put the Servants on your table (what would the neighbours think?!), but next to your plateau - this means they are very helpful but you don't refill your hand with a card from the table as you do in the other instances. Risky!

TJ Lubrano, did the the watercolored art. How did you get hooked up with her and what was your reaction when you first saw the game art?

David: I can't remember how we met, now. I say "met" but I've never seen her in person. She lives in The Netherlands and I live in Australia and the train tickets to get to her cost a fortune. So we have an online-only friendship. I was working on a game about gorillas and asked her if she could illustrate it as I already knew and loved her work. She said, "No." I said, "Well, I'll try and think of a game you could illustrate, then." She said, "OK." Elevenses was the perfect theme for her first work as a game illustrator. I had her in mind all the time so I had some idea of what the game was going to look like, but when I first saw the first sketches it was pretty emotional. It was like this little thing I had invented was coming into being. I'm sure it was just like what it must be like when you give birth to a baby, sort of.

Do you have a favorite piece of art in the game?

David: The box cover. Yup - it puts across the feel of the game exactly. You know what you are getting - a game about morning tea set in the 1920s.

Let’s talk about the expansion, Special Guests – what are these cards and what do they do?

David: My brother and I both had ideas for mini-expansions before the Elevenses Kickstarter campaign, but we put them to the side to see how the funding went and what we could afford to produce. The Special Guests is a marriage of both of our ideas, but most of the work for this is definitely Philip's.

What popped up during the campaign, was that the majority of our backers were "non-gamers," but the "gamers" of the crowd were asking for something to extend the replayability of the game for them - they wanted something more challenging to throw into the mix, I suppose. This is what The Special Guests do. It isn't so much an expansion as advanced rules for the game. Each round, players receive a secret goal - a special guest who is coming to their tea. Each guest has a love for three of the items you hope to serve. If a player manages to serve their favourites, they may flip the guest card for extra points towards their tea party. It adds something more to think about as you play - something else to shoot for - without changing gameplay at all.

What would you say your favorite special guest is?

David: Probably Lady Dorothy. She just looks so glamorous and so snobbish at the same time.

Are you surprised at all that your game made a little over 5x’s its funding goal on KS?

David: Uh, yes! When you design a game with a theme and gameplay that hasn't really been seen before, you can't expect what will happen. I would have been happy if we just made enough to produce the minimum number of copies of the game, but the fact that it's going to be so much nicer to play with and have a larger number of copies produced is so exciting.

How does the 2-player game of Elevenses differ in rules or overall feel compared to 4-player game?

David: One of the big goals for me was to ensure that no rule changes were required depending on the number of players. Games with setup or rules changes for different player counts (don't get me started on dummy players for 2-player games) can really increase the Confusion Ratio for new or non-gamers. Elevenses is enjoyed by hobby gamers but it was aimed at the wider public. It had to be simple to teach. Not only that, but I wanted to be able to play it with my wife!

Having said that, the 2-player game definitely has a more "take-that" feel as you can only affect each others tea party.

What was the best piece of feedback, from a play tester you received when you were still prototyping the game?

David: For me, a great moment was when someone said, "There really isn't any other game like this." I sat there, frozen, trying to think of one - surely I couldn't have come up with something THAT original. We all sat there but couldn't think of anything. I suggested it had a little bit similar to Palastgefluster, but not much. Maybe we are wrong, but it's nice to think Elevenses will feel cool and different to many who play it.

What was your favorite part of designing the game?

David: The first time I showed it to outsiders. My brother and cousin were over for a games night and I said I wanted to show them a new game idea. "It's called Elevenses," I said. My cousin cracked up, my brother had no idea what was going on. "It's a game about serving tea," I said, and we all laughed in bewilderment. My cousin said, "This is either going to be crazy or brilliant." That whole game we were laughing and speaking in older lady English accents. It was hilarious, and I just thought, even if that was the only time the game gets played, it was worth it.

What was the most challenging part of designing it?

David: During the game different cards get passed around. It is possible to block your opponents' plans and try to slow everyone else down so you can leap ahead with your own tea party. The problem was, games could very rarely break down and become stalemated. We knew this could never happen. No game should be produced that is "broken." It took many hours of thinking and testing from my brother and I to try and come up with a solution. In the end, the answer was so obvious and staring us in the face the whole time it seems silly - but that was really stressful. No game can stalemate now.

Your bother’s company, Adventureland Games, is publishing the game. What was your favorite part of working with Phil on this project?

David: Not having to do all the hard work! I briefly considered self-publishing it before offering it to him, but when I thought about production and shipping and customs... erg! He has experience dealing with all those things. I've learned a lot now and it isn't as daunting as before but I don't believe anyone should think producing a game - even a simple card game - is easy.

When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the most proud that you designed this game?

David: Whether or not it receives wide acclaim is not as important as the pride I have for seeing this idea birth, grow and mature. It has its own life and personality that is different to mine and that's cool. Probably most of all I am happy how the whole package - art, mechanics, theme - work hand-in-hand so well together.

What makes Elevenses different from other card games out there?

David: A few things. It takes the "every card is an individual" from Innovation but puts it into a condensed, fast form. The set up is also unique - it's cool to lay out your cards upside-down showing your tablecloth, and over time, placing food and tea onto it to watch your tea party getting prepared. The choices each turn are tough and players can choose to hurt the progress of others, yet it is very family-friendly and non-gamers love it. The theme and art style is also very unique. Another thing we did, in order for the theme to work and to speak with our target audience directly, the entire game (rules, cards, etc.) address players in a feminine voice which is very rare in the gaming world.

Finish this sentence in 12 words or less. Elevenses is ________.

David: the most awesomest thing ever so get on the bandwagon now!

What 2014 release are you looking forward to the most?

David: I'm interested in Madame Ching and the Bruges expansion. I'm also looking forward to finally playing Abluxxen and Splendor. Other than that, I'm really hoping Essen gives us some euros as awesome as last year.

As we wrap this up, do you have anything to add?

David: Yup! Check out Elevenses for One - a micro game for one player set in the Elevenses universe! (Yes, it is a universe.) This game actually does only have eleven cards (take that Love Letter!), and in this one, the player takes on the role of the servant who is getting all the ingredients for the morning tea ready for her employer to then serve to her guests - it's sort of a prequel!

I originally thought of this game during the Elevenses campaign and hoped to have it ready as a stretch goal or add-on. Unfortunately it wasn't finished in time and my brother decided it wasn't cost effective to make and ship eleven extra cards all over the world so it has become its own thing. Realising there may not be huge demand for this one, I've just put it out as print-and-play, but if it proves popular you never know! The files are on BGG now!

I have also finished another small card game since Elevenses that I have yet to show around, and have "given birth" to some new ideas for future games - all centered around other original gaming themes... we'll see!

Lastly, We just received advance copies of Elevenses from the printers and they look divine. I'm really excited that backers and then stores will be able to play this very soon!

Thanks for the interview! *sips tea*

The Inquisitive Meeple thanks David, for taking time out to do this interview!

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

Elevenses' Facebook Page

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