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Distilled: Designer Interview

I have had a lot of half baked ideas in my time, however owning a distillery has not been on that list yet. Fun fact though Mary and I were married in a distillery. I digress, after catching up with Dave Beck you might seriously want to open a distillery or better yet, back Distilled on Kickstarter July 6th. So grab a glass of your favorite spirit and read about the design process behind up coming game Distilled.


How did you get into game design, what led you here?

Equal parts passion, career, and luck. I've always been a gamer, mainly video games, but in the past 10 years I've also fallen down the deep rabbithole of board games. My background is in studio art, with an emphasis in sculpture, and that has evolved into incorporating my interests in technology to allow me to work in 3D modeling, animation, and 3D printing. One thing led to another, and I found myself hired to create and run a game design program at my current position at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. That was 10 years ago, and my projects have ranged from animations to video games to board games!

What is your favorite game to play?

That's a toughie. I'd say that if I can get a group of friends together, it is Captain Sonar, which needs 8 players. I love that feeling of chaos and high energy, all centered around a group of people at a table without technology. But otherwise, it would be games like Imperial Assault and Gloomhaven, as I love that idea of a campaign and the feel of a video game combined with a board game. I'm proud to say that we finished the Gloomhaven campaign after 63 separate sessions!

One night, after a dram (or two!) of single malt, I was going to sleep and a light bulb moment occurred

What inspired the theme of the game?

I was in Scotland on sabbatical from my university job during the fall of 2019. I was conducting research on augmented and virtual reality (and how I might be able to connect technology with history over there). I was also visiting lots of distilleries and sampling many fine whiskies. One night, after a dram (or two!) of single malt, I was going to sleep and a light bulb moment occurred, around how I might be able to represent the mechanics of a game about making whisky through channeling thematic elements. I spent the entire night furiously scribbling down ideas until the sun came up. At that point, I had already decided it should be named Distilled and would be a deck-builder about making whisky!

What’s your favorite mechanism in Distilled?

Most definitely the distilling step in the game, which represents the main - and unique - hook. Players throw a bunch of ingredients into a big vat (represented on the side of your player board, called a washback), in attempts to make one of many different recipes for spirits in the game (ie: vodka, moonshine, rum, whisky, etc.). Once they are ready to distill, the players add alcohol cards for certain ingredients in their washback, and then shuffle the whole pile together. Then - to represent how distilling actually happens, where the first and last part of the liquid is toxic and removed - the players must remove the top and bottom card of their stack. These are reused (just like in real life) by being placed in their pantry. What is left is the spirit you have made, and it must be compared to your list of recipes. If you pushed your luck and didn't put enough of a certain ingredient in the batch, and it was removed, you could be going from a fine whisky to a sub-standard moonshine!


What is the most interesting thing you have learned while designing?

That is most definitely about the amazing and unique cultures and spirits found around the world. Distilled just isn't about making whisky anymore, like I conceived of it in Scotland, but instead about making spirits from around the world. This includes relatively unknown spirits to Westerners like Soju and Baijiu from Korea and China respectively, which are actually the most consumed spirits in the world! Others from the Americas, Europe, and Africa have really been eye opening to how each of these regions and cultures not only have unique ingredients but very similar processes in distilling and aging.

The peat in a dram gives a nice spice 'n' smoke flavor that reminds me of Scotland, campfires, and the earth itself.

What distilled beverage do you recommend having while playing the game?

I'm a big whisky fan. I spell that without an 'e' because I far prefer a peaty single malt scotch whisky over something like a sweeter bourbon whiskey from America. The peat in a dram gives a nice spice 'n' smoke flavor that reminds me of Scotland, campfires, and the earth itself. Romantic, delicious, fantastic stuff. But while I might recommend that, the fun of Distilled is that (I hope) people will likely purchase some of these more unknown spirits to take an opportunity to give it a try while they play Distilled with friends and make those spirits in the game!

Do you have any advice for a new game designer?

Start small. Reach out for help. Be ready to take 2-5 years on your project. These three bits are things that I tried to embrace (well, maybe not start small!), and only was able to do so because of failures in the past where I didn't consider this. Distilled wouldn't be where it is today without the help of numerous individuals and experts, including artists (bringing the design to life), developers (finding balance in the game), and playtesters.


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