John Goodenough – 20 Questions

If you cast your mind back to the beginning of the year, you will remember seeing the interview with John Goodenough posted here at Talisman Island. As part of the announcement made over at the Fantasy Flight forums, John kindly agreed to answer 20 questions put to him by forum users.

It’s been a while coming, due to work commitments and such like, but finally John has been able to put finger to keyboard and has sent answers to all of your questions, which I can now present to you!

Let’s see if your question was one that was chosen –

Q 1: Will fate become more powerful in expansions? What will the light and dark sides of the fate token be used for?

A: Most expansions will feature at least a couple of cards with a fate theme. One of the upcoming expansions will take full advantage of the light and dark sides of the fate tokens by introducing new game rules. Dark fate will be easier to replenish but is more treacherous because other players may be able to use it against you. Light fate is more difficult to replenish but it may grant players additional benefits besides just rerolling a die. Like most expansion rules, the new spin on fate is modular so players can choose whether or not they use it in their games. The light and dark sides of fate are aimed at players who desire more interaction with other characters and want to use the tokens for more powerful effects. Just imagine being able to force a player to roll a 1 result at the Enchantress!

Q 2: Talisman is at heart quite a simple game, do you intend to add further game mechanics or are you happy with its identity as it stands?

A: I would like to gradually introduce new game mechanics as long as they maintain the spirit of Talisman and are kept fairly simple. I feel that the best ideas enhance the core gaming experience instead of changing it, so I am hesitant on adding new mechanics that make the game more complicated.

However, Talisman is a very large world and has plenty of room to grow both in theme and game mechanics. Small box expansions such as The Reaper will introduce new cards that fall outside of the standard Adventure and Spell cards. Large box expansions such as The Dungeon will have the most dramatic shift in game play and may feature new ways to win the game. Of course players always have the freedom to play with any elements from expansions and exclude any cards or rules they wish.

Q 3: Will we see a “Characters” set with just figures and character cards for those people who like to have a wide range of characters in their games?

A: Perhaps someday, but not in the near future. Expansions that feature a wider range of components tend to have a greater appeal. The Reaper expansion for example, appeals to players interested in more Adventure, Spell, and character cards, as well as a few new surprises. Producing an expansion that only features new characters will only appeal to players that want more characters. Then again, what Talisman fan wouldn’t want more characters!

Q 4: I understand why some of the rules were changed in the updated edition but why did the rules wording also change? Combat and starting craft was used in the first editions why change it now?

A: The term “starting craft” implies that this is how much Craft a character starts the game with, which is not always the case.

The most popular alternative rule for faster play is to start the game with additional Strength and Craft. These counters do not count towards a character’s “starting craft” even though they are added to his Craft at the start of the game. Future expansions will also introduce cards that increase a character’s “starting craft”, which is counter-intuitive since the character did not actually start the game with these bonuses. I chose the term “Craft value” because it represents a number that may fluctuate during the game, and is not necessarily how much Craft you start the game with.

The wording for combat was changed to avoid overlapping terminology. Having the same word mean different things in different circumstances leads to confusion and rules lawyering. The main issue was having the term “combat” refer to both combat and psychic combat. For example, if an ability allowed to you add 1 to your attack score in combat does this mean combat only or does it also include psychic combat? If the intention is only in combat, then every instance would have to include additional text to clarify “but not in psychic combat.” While this may not sound like a big deal, it becomes problematic when you’re trying to fit text in a small card frame. To simplify and clarify this issue, I used the terminology from Talisman 3rd Edition and have attacks broken up into battles (using Strength) and psychic combat (using Craft).

With that said, I made an exception with the term “Object” which also refers to Magic Objects. Circumstances where the distinction between Objects and Magic Objects are so extremely rare that overlapping the term is simply a more elegant solution..

Q 5: The Reaper set contains a lot of cards from old expansions, is this the model for future expansions or could you just not resist in adding some old favourites?

A: I would like every expansion to have a sense of nostalgia, but also introduce new surprises. About half of the cards in The Reaper expansion were based on previous Talisman sets but this ratio will be more conservative in future expansions since there is only a handful of classic cards left. Some expansions will even include cards from Bob Harris’s original prototype that were not published (Raging Bull is just the first example).

Q 6: I was wondering if we can get more information regarding at least the next two expansions, you mentioned the 3rd is a Toad based theme?

A: I can’t get into any details yet, but here are some hints of things you’ll find in the next expansion, following the release of The Dungeon:

A new type of card will be introduced that has not yet been seen in any Talisman Revised 4th Edition expansion.

Some of the cards feature new ways of being turned into a slimy little toad, including a new Spell.

The last winter in Minnesota was bone-chilling and it even snowed a few times in April. This may have had some influence on certain cards.

One interesting thing to note about the miniatures is that it will feature the largest and smallest character in the game.

Q 7: Being as Talisman and fantasy gaming in general seems to cater for a male audience I was wondering if the game will get characters and creatures orientated towards female players.

A: Most of the expansions will feature a balanced mix of female and male characters, as well as encounters in the Adventure deck. I think the best designed characters and creatures have a universal appeal to any gender. The Amazon character for example, will appeal to anyone who wants to play a proud and fierce warrior.

Q 8: Will FFG ever release a strategy guide for Talisman, including detailed background information on characters, additional artwork, history of the game, detailed information about board squares etc.? Something players can buy that will share more of the talisman story, compared to another expansion.

A: I’m not sure that a strategy guide is the best format to develop a background setting because Talisman is not really a strategy game. We may post content on the FFG Talisman page but this really depends on how much time and resources are available. If players are interested in learning the history of the world of Talisman, the big box expansions feature a fair amount of flavour text and background stories. Of course fans are always welcome to invent their own stories and background for the land of Talisman!

Q 9: When playing what is the card that you hate to draw? Love to get? Just plain think is hilarious when it comes out of the deck?

A: The Raiders from previous editions was probably the most dreaded card in the game, not because I was afraid of losing gold and Objects but because it tended to create balance issues. The most common scenario is when the Raiders hit a character who is struggling to keep up with the leader. The leader is the only character that is powerful enough to quickly reach the Middle Region by beating the Sentinel, and then proceeds to loot all the treasure sitting on the Oasis. This leads to a “rich get richer and poor get poorer” effect and results in a dramatic swing in power.

The ideal but less common scenario is when the Raiders help balance the game by knocking the most powerful character off his throne, allowing the weakest characters to catch up by taking his loot. This rarely happens because the odds of hitting a weaker character is so much higher than hitting the leader. For example, a four player game only has a one in four chance that the Raiders will hit the leader and a three in four chance that a character falling behind will be sent even further behind. This is main reason why the Raiders was changed in the Revised 4th Edition. While the revised Raiders only has one “raiding” effect, future expansions will introduce new Raider cards that can steal Followers, Objects, gold, and even Spells!

The card I love to draw is the Demigod. Gaining a Spell of your choice allows you to adapt to what you need at that moment. Most of they time I end up picking the classic Temporal Warp because extra turns is always useful. However, this may change with the release of the next expansion because some of the new Spells are just too good to pass up.

Pestilence has lead to many hilarious moments when it rears its ugly head out of the Adventure deck. I’ve seen players go down to one life left and still keep on pushing their luck. “Maybe you should go somewhere and heal” I say. “No problem, I have Armour” they say. Next round Pestilence is drawn and their character dies.

Q 10: Will everything be made in-house, or would it be possible to create items/expansions/etc. that FFG would consider acquiring? If anything in the community reaches enough high popularity, would it be possible for FFG to approach the creator and start negotiating? Or could FFG just use it, no questions asked? Will FFG even consider items created by externals like GW once did for Talisman?

A: This is a very complicated question. The short answer is that FFG does not hire freelancers to design expansions. If you look at expansions from our other product lines, they are all created in-house or by the game’s original designer. It simply is not practical to do so otherwise. I wish I could elaborate on this more but it would be an entire article in itself.

Q 11: In Runebound, it is hard to keep my kids attention on the game because the individual turns seem to take too long. We are incorporating the Inheritance rule from Talisman, because my wife always dies and loses everything, and I’m trying to incorporate the battle mechanic from Warcraft to speed up the turns. I understand that it may take several turns to kill an enemy with 1 battle per turn instead of several.

A: While battles in Runebound can last several rounds they also offer more strategic decisions than Talisman. Runebound gives you a choice of when to attack, when to defend, and when to use your Allies.

Longer downtime is a common side effect for more detailed and strategic gaming experiences. The trick is to either make the downtime interesting for other players to watch or even better yet, have the other players participate directly. One of the main reasons why Runebound Class Decks were published was to increase this type of player interaction during your opponents’ turns. While Talisman does not have this type of strategic depth, it does offer a tremendously rich variety of encounters. You never know what you are going to run into when you draw an Adventure card, which creates a stronger feeling of adventure, danger and excitement.

Q 12: What suggestions would you have on people who want to design and make full games to market? What would be some first steps? How would you be able to become part of an organisation such as FFG in game making, rather than being competition? How did you get involved?

A: One of the most important aspects of game design is understanding what appeals and what does not appeal to your target market. Aspiring designers should first understand what type of gamers will be attracted to their game, then focus on the game mechanics and theme that appeals to that target market. Understanding your target market can be the difference between making a good game and making a good game that sells. This may sound rather obvious but it’s amazing how many great games are published and quickly forgotten because they simply did not click with their target market.

Try to play as many different types of games with as many different gaming groups as possible. Playing your favourite game with the same group of friends over and over again may be really fun, but it also limits your experiences. Join different gaming groups, hang out at your local game store, and attend conventions to broaden your horizons. These experiences will help you better understand the different gamer types and ultimately help you gain better understanding of the different target markets.

Games are essentially a medium for people to interact with each other. Pay attention to what aspects help players immerse themselves in the game and promote interaction with each other.

As far as breaking into the industry is concerned, I don’t think there is a straight path you can follow that leads to a full-time position. The road that finally lead me to a designer position has been a long and winding one. The first opportunity I had to work with FFG was as a Flight Crew member running game demos at conventions. There is no better way to connect with the fan base and keep a finger on the pulse of the gaming industry than meeting people face to face.

During this time I was working at a store that sold games but it wasn’t really a true game store. After a few conventions FFG had a position open up in the shipping department and I jumped at the chance to actually work for a game company. This was back when FFG still assembled games in the warehouse and if you have an old copy of Drakon 2nd Edition, chances are I packed the components in the box!

Darrel Hardy and Christian Petersen would occasionally wander back in the warehouse and talk about the coolest projects they were working on. I also had a chance to playtest the latest games which would lead to many interesting discussions about game design. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and share some of the experiences the game designers were going through such as late night playtests, last minute editing, and fixing printing problems. Getting a behind-the-scenes look at how a game company is run made a great learning experience and would come in very handy when I finally landed a design position. The most powerful experience was launching a game that everyone had very high hopes for, only to watch it fall short of expectations. All of these moments really opened my eyes to the realistic and less glamorous side of the industry and shattered many of my misconceptions.

I eventually left the warehouse gig in order to pursue freelance art projects. FFG kept me busy illustrating Call of Cthulhu, Game of Thrones, and many other board and card games.

As much fun as I had creating art, I was also passionate about game design and playtested most of the games I illustrated. Right about the time I started to seriously contemplate working on the other side of the drawing board FFG had a game developer position open up. I applied for the job and have been designing and developing games for FFG ever since. There were some surreal moments along the way, like developing Drakon 3rd Edition when a few years ago I assembled the previous edition back in the warehouse. Looking back now, many of the lessons that I learned working in the warehouse made the transition of moving into the developer position much easier. By the time I sat in the developer’s seat I was already aware of most of the harsh realities of job, so I at least knew what I was getting myself into!

I guess the moral of the story is no wherever you start in the gaming industry, even if it is not actually designing games, you can learn many valuable lessons along the way.

Q 13: Has FFG thought about designing alternate versions of Talisman that would allow for different gaming cliques to enjoy the game without toting around a board or minis?

A: I would not be surprised if the Talisman logo appeared on more games.

Q 14: Each of the characters seems to revolve around the archetypal historical version of a profession or race (Prophetess, Elf, Dwarf, Warrior, etc). Does FFG plan or have thought about a race/class system? So you have an Elf Warrior or a Dwarf Wizard?

A: I would like to develop a character expansion but it would probably not fall into a rigid race/class system. The system would more likely be very flexible and allow players to select which special abilities and bonuses their characters start the game with.

Runebound gave me the opportunity to explore a character system in the form of the Class Decks but I would love another opportunity to design a streamlined system that allowed players to customise their characters. Currently the design focus is expanding the world of Talisman but characters may get a closer look in the future.

Q 15: How do you go about selecting the art for the cards in the game? What is the process that you have to go through before a final piece is chosen? What sources do you look to for artwork? Are they internal or external/freelance artists?

A: The first step is to write an art description for each card in the game. Sometimes I have very specific details that communicate how the card works in the game, but most of the time I simply provide a general outline and let the artists invent the details. Since we hire many freelance artists this creates an eclectic vision of Talisman and adds to the variety of the game.

The art director then takes the list of art descriptions and assigns them to talented freelance artists. All of the freelancers are out-of-house, we do not have any in-house illustrators. The next step is for the artist to send us a sketch of the illustration. Once the sketch is approved the artist can proceed with the final painting. All of the finished art is reviewed in-house and by Games Workshop before it is finally approved.

Q 16: How did you get involved with Talisman? Which version did you start out playing? How would you compare the new edition to the other versions?

A: My good friend Richard Tatge has the largest game collection I have ever seen, including Talisman First Edition and a complete set of expansions. One fateful night Richard brought up a dusty box that looked like it was a hundred years old. The cards were well worn with years of play which added even a greater sense of history and reverence to the game. The only rules explanation that was given before we started playing was something along the lines of “you roll a die for your move and then draw a card.” This allowed us to just dive right into the game and we were soon slaying fearsome Dragons with Runeswords and Holy Lances.

When I took the game developer position at FFG several years later, I was still a fanatical Talisman fan and always hoped that we would someday be able to publish the game. I must have nagged Christian Petersen enough times that when he finally picked up the license I was a shoo-in to take over the Talisman product line. Even though Black Industries did a fantastic job with 4th Edition, there were certain aspects of the game that I wanted to refine even further. My development of the Revised 4th Edition stemmed from over a decade of playing Talisman and creating countless variants and home-brewed cards. Bob Harris made a classic game that has stood the test of time, so my ultimate goal was to enhance the playing experience rather than dramatically change it. Perhaps the biggest change compared to previous versions was increasing the characters’ life-span. It was fairly common in 2nd Edition games for players to cycle through a few characters during a single session. This was mainly due to streaks of bad luck during movement and attacks. The new fate tokens can usually save characters in a pinch long enough to find a healer and recover their strength.

Q 17: How big will they go with promo or giveaways like Gen Con? Will there be exclusive figures or only card like the promo cards?

A: Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.

Q 18: Does FFG plan to make an expansion, something like “Epic Level Expansion Set”, which will contain harder enemies and other cards, so they will be difficult for mighty heroes (Strength/Craft something like 15)?

A: Some expansions will feature end-game content that will challenge even the mightiest of heroes and make the Inner Region look like a walk in the park.

I also put some thought into a campaign system in which characters progress over several gaming sessions. It didn’t take long to figure out that Talisman is much better suited for single session games because it has too many reset buttons and destructive effects for extended play. Being turned into a slimy little Toad is hilarious when the game only lasts a couple hours. However, few gamers would be laughing if they were Toaded after their character was built up over four days of gaming.

Q 19: As there is such a keen fan-base that loves to design their own cards, would you supply plain stock for people to print their own resources with?

A: The Revised 4th Edition Upgrade Pack can be used as a fairly effective design kit. All of the prototypes I make for playtesting use components from cannibalised Upgrade Packs. I print the cards on 8.5”x11” sticker sheets, cut them down to size, and then stick them on the front side of the game cards. As long as the stickers do not overlap edges of the cards the deck can be shuffled well even when regular cards from the base game are mixed in.

Q 20: Is there anything from 2nd and 3rd ed that we will definitely not see again?

A: Cards that are directly tied to other Games Workshop properties such as Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K will not likely see print. This includes references to Skaven, Chaos Dwarves, and Dark Elves. However, some concessions might be possible with a simple name change. For example, Talisman cannot feature Dark Elves but the new Dungeon expansion introduced a subterranean race with the “Black Elf” card.

Other cards may be altered slightly in order to be politically correct. One example is the original “Slaver” card from the Second Edition Dungeon expansion. Its title was renamed to “Dungeon Keeper” but I kept the original card’s special ability in order to maintain its theme and flavor. While some cards’ appearance may receive a facelift, their original special abilities will be left unchanged.

..and finally, an extra special BONUS question:

Q 21: Oh, and what is your favourite colour?

A: Any shade of green.

I’d like to thank John on behalf of everyone that took the time to ask a question for this feature. I hope that I chose some interesting questions, though I know there are some very interesting answers here – Who’d have thought it would be green?

Perhaps at some future point we might be able to convince John to come up with something to leave us foaming at the mouth for more Talisman news!