Interview with Scott Caputo | Whistle Stop : Rocky Mountains Expansion
This interview with Scott came out of the blue as I have gotten the opportunity to talk with different publishers like Bezier Games. I have not had the opportunity to play Whistle Stop - but as one who loves trains and genuine people, Scott has won a new player! He offered some great words here for myself and I hope that you get the chance to take something from this!
Chris Michelotti: When designing games, do you find yourself developing the theme first and figuring out mechanics to support it? Or do you find yourself really liking various mechanics and then developing themes to utilize them?
Scott Caputo: For the last few games, I have started with a "what if". What if I made a tile-laying pick-up-and-deliver game? That became Whistle Stop. What if I made a tile-laying deck-building game? That became Sorcerer City. If I think the new combination of mechanics could work, then I search for a theme that would help make the mechanics make sense. I've written a lot about the origin of Whistle Stop, how it started out as a game about medieval merchants paying tributes to different European kings. However, given how the "kings" can appear all over the board and next to each other, it seemed like a weird theme for players. Then, my dad suggested zamindars, which were Indian princes and there were literally hundreds of them all over India, so that made more geographic sense. However, when I sold Zamindar to Ted Alspach (of Bezier Games), the first thing he said was I had really designed a "train game" and I didn't know it. Ted was right. The mechanics of the game mapped nicely to Old Western trains which spawned new ideas such as the upgrades that did not exist in the earlier prototype.
CM: Why did you choose to return to Whistle Stop? Was this an expansion based on a feeling of missing something with the first game?
SC: In the board game industry, if you have a successful game, it's important to keep producing content for the game. Fans of the original game are looking for new twists on the game they love and expansions help attract more attention to the original game. I personally love designing expansions. I did two expansions for my other game Voluspa, one of which was included in the box and another released the Order of the Gods. With Whistle Stop, it seemed natural to alter the "map" of the game. Many train games such as Ticket to Ride release new maps every year which provide new challenges for players. I wanted to do something similar except, of course, Whistle Stop has no regular map--it's created by the players! Whistle Stop already has a puzzle piece border and I had this idea of connecting an extra board in the middle. When I first shared the idea with Ted, his mind immediately jumped to the Rocky Mountains, so that became the starting inspiration for the expansion.
CM: For players who love the base game - what can they expect from the added 3D mountain range?
SC: This new Rocky Mountains board offers players both challenge and reward. It costs extra coal and/or whistle tokens just to place a tile on top of a mountain spot, but players are rewarded well for doing so: a rare resource of their choice, a gold token, or even a free upgrade! That's one of the exciting parts of the mountain board--it comes seeded with 4 upgrades so every game players play will have 4 more upgrades than normal giving them more opportunities to do crazy combos. Another nice aspect of the mountain board is there is an extra initial column of tiles in the mountains with another coal yard, 2 towns, and another special tile. This gives players even more places to aim to reach. In terms of the 3D aspect of the board, Ted and his Bezier Games team really raised the bar with the presentation and production of the board. It could have just been a regular board piece, but they added raised positions on the board that gives real terrain for players to move their trains up and over. Finally, the game comes with new upgrades tied specifically to the mountain board such as the Dynamite Cart that makes it cheaper to place a tile in the mountain, or even the Tunnel Network that lets a player skip through empty mountain spaces!
CM: A lot of creators aim to self-publish these days, what drew you to working with a publisher, and why Bezier?
SC: I have always focused on the designing portion of the business. To self-publish would require learning how to work with factories, do marketing and do fulfillment. Right now, I'm not sure I want to try to learn how to do all of those tasks needed to run my own board game company. As it stands, I'm getting a taste of Kickstarter with my game, Sorcerer City, which luckily is being handled by Druid City Games. As for Bezier Games, I met Ted and Toni at a local board game convention 7+ years ago and got to play games with them. So, I got to know them and they got to know me after a course of many years. As their business took off and I started designing games, I approached Ted and asked him if he'd like to see one of my prototypes. That game was Whistle Stop and he ended up signing it. Of course, now Ted and Toni have moved across the country, so they are no longer in my local area, but we still enjoy working together. In fact, we may have another project in the works which we are not ready to share details on, but stay tuned.
CM: When did you know you wanted to create games? Why Tabletop?
SC: I have been designing games since early elementary school. I remember making pen and pencil games and later programming computer games which I shared with my classmates. It's true I thought I would design video games as I grew up and that was my focus for a long time. When I was in school, there was no such thing as a Game Design major, so I majored in Computer Science, with minors in Math and Creative Writing. I tried to get a job in video games, but it's not easy to break into that business. Instead, I ended up in the gambling business, where I became an online slot game designer. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to make a slot experience fun and entertaining, and I have now worked in the gambling industry for 15 years. Also about 15 years ago, I got excited about board games again. Some good friends of mine had several hundred games, many I had never heard of including games from German designers. It was a whole new world of games. At a certain point, I decided to try designing my own board games. I entered my first design, Unearth, into the Kublacon Game Design Contest in 2006 and it won first place! That game never got published despite trying a dozen times, but it got me started down the board game design path. Now, I have 3 published games and 3 more signed games.
CM: How do you balance your personal life and the creative life?
SC: With a wife and two small kids (5 and 7), it's really hard. I certainly don't always get the balance right. It involves a lot of communication and planning. It involves prioritizing games--is this game really that important to work on now? Could it wait a bit longer? I try to involve my family in the process as much as I can. Sometimes my wife comes with me to Prototype Night. Sometimes my son and I work on our own shared games. Sometimes, we all go to game conventions together. It's a fun hobby to share and luckily everyone in my family loves games too. Both of my boys say they want to be game inventors when they grow up just like dad. I hope I can share the love of the hobby with them and who knows, maybe they will be game designers too.
CM: If you could go back 5 years ago, what is one piece of advice you would give yourself?
SC: Thinking back 5 years ago, I think Whistle Stop was signed but in the midst of a difficult development. I was anxious if Whistle Stop would ever be finished and released. I was afraid I would fail and not figure out how to make a game good enough to be published. I would tell myself to "Take heart, all good things take time. It's OK if it takes longer than you think." I've tried to have more perspective these days when developing a game. It's OK if things break. It's OK if I don't have ideas how to fix everything right away. I'm now working with three different companies and three different developers. I'm working hard to listen well to all of their feedback and trust them. We are all trying to make the best games possible and none of us get it all right all of the time. In the end, it's about the game. Some of my favorite moments are seeing pictures of parents playing Whistle Stop with their kids and it feels good to share my game with them.
So if you already know and love the game Whistle Stop you can pre-order the expansion here. If you haven't gotten the chance to play the original game yet then you shuld stop by your FLGS and see if they have a copy or you can pick it up here too. Have you gotten the chance to play this game yet? Let me know what you thought about it in the comments below, and if you have another game you would like me to look into you can let me know there as well and remember to...