Welcome to the first in what will hopefully become a series where I chat to people from the world of tabletop games. The aim is to try and find out a bit more about what makes them tick and to explore their particular corner of the hobby.
This time, I talk to game designer Robbie Munn, designer of Sumo Gnomes; a game which I talked about in my round up of some of my favourites from UK Games Expo 2019.
Dice In The Dark: Hi Robbie, thanks for being here today. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself: who are you and what do you do?
Robbie Munn: Hey, great to be here. That’s a tough first question! Often described as the embodiment of an awkward pause, I’m the guy behind Peculiarity, a one-man game design and publishing company that likes to offer something a little different from the norm.
DITD: How did you first get involved with the world of tabletop gaming? Do you have any particularly fond memories from that time?
RM: I always enjoyed gaming as a kid, from playing Cluedo and Smuggle with the family, Crossbows & Catapults or Heroquest with friends, to drawing the curtains every summer to play on my Commodore 64, from that point on I was pretty much a console gamer. As an adult it was
DnD 2nd Ed that got me back into analogue gaming, I still remember my first character too, Jason, a farm boy turned trident wielding warrior god, happy memories indeed! My wife bought me my first modern(?) boardgame which was Castle Ravenloft, a game which I now play with my daughter.
DITD: What are some of your favourite games? What do you love about them?
RM: That’s a tough one, I love playing Space Crusade, a friend bought it for me probably 7 years ago now, it’s a game I always wanted to own but never did, turns out I’m a sucker for a bit of nostalgia. I still love RPG’s, they are the perfect form of escapism which I have no doubt have helped me through times when the real world was less than rosy – Pathfinder, Vampire the Masquerade and Call of Cthulhu are my top 3. Keeping to the Cthulhu theme I really enjoy the new Mansions of Madness, the app makes the whole experience silky smooth and allows you to enjoy the story so much more.
DITD: How did you get in to designing your own games? What inspired you?
RM: By chance really. I really enjoy making things and keeping busy. I’ve made furniture, jewellery, t-shirts and more, so when a friend called me up one day and said “lets make a game!” I dove right in. It consumed me like nothing else had and I’ve not looked back since.
DITD: What was that first game? How would you have approached it differently if you knew then what you know now about game design?
RM: The game was called Graemun, a skirmish style game where you could use chess pieces as your miniatures, essentially an accessible way to get into miniature gaming without the huge financial outlay, a miniature gateway game if you like. We created a new world, lore for all the races, a history to explain why they were at war, it was a huge project. Eventually it evolved into a board game and the chess element took a back seat, that’s when Wotan Games took an interest and it evolved further into War of the 9 Realms (a really big undertaking!). Wotan Games would go on to publish War of the 9 Realms in 2018.
I’ve not given up on Graemun though, there’s still promise in the idea of a chess-based skirmish game, and the lore really is lovely.
Hindsight is a blessing and a curse, there’s plenty I wish was done differently, but then a lot of those regrets pushed me to where I am now.
DITD: Your previous game, Summoner’s Isle, was successfully funded through Kickstarter. How was that experience?
RM: It was a nerve-wracking, grey-hair-inducing experience. I did lots of prep and a lot of people gave their time and expertise to help get there, but I still didn’t feel ready. I was genuinely surprised when we funded, it was a surreal and daunting moment: on one hand you’re elated that your game is actually going to be made, on the other hand people had put their faith in you and you couldn’t let them down.
DITD: What was the thing that you found most challenging about launching a game through Kickstarter?
RM: The stress. The feeling that you’ve missed something vitally important, a miscalculation that means you’re tremendously out of pocket, the worry that your print files are wrong (one of them actually was – oh the shame!), the self-doubt that your game isn’t good enough, the worry that the manufacturer will not deliver on time. I could go on but it wasn’t all bad, I had some great experiences and got to interact with people all over the world, share ideas and genuinely improve aspects of the design along the way. Without KS and its awesome pledgers, Summoner’s Isle wouldn’t be here now and it certainly wouldn’t look so pretty.
DITD: What can you tell us about your upcoming game, Sumo Gnomes? How did the idea for Sumo Gnomes come about?
RM: As its name suggests, you play a Sumo wrestling gnome trying to eject your opponent from a tree stump dohyō. It all started from a desire to make a quick game that fits in your pocket, something fast that people can dip in and out of to prove their mettle. I’m not totally sure where the gnome theme came from, as its first iteration started out as amoebas competing in primordial soup, that then changed to garden gnomes vying for the best place to sit in the garden, which then became Sumo wrestling gnomes.
DITD: What’s been the reaction to Sumo Gnomes so far?
RM: Pretty good! At UK Games Expo I had a few people visit the stand every day to play, this blew me away considering how much there is to see and do there. I also made a small print run which sold really quickly, so hopefully this is a good sign that people want quick games like this.
DITD: What does the future hold for Sumo Gnomes?
RM: If the forest spirits see fit to support us then there’s hope that the Kickstarter will do well. I’m aiming to launch at the end of September so that the last week of the campaign overlaps with Essen [Games Fair]. It’s not something that I would usually have considered, as Essen will see 600+ game launches, but I’ll be there demoing the deluxe version of Sumo Gnomes to be made by LaserOx. The deluxe version offers lovely large wooden dice and an actual tree stump to play on. This will also be an option during the Kickstarter campaign which you’ll be able to sign up to there and then after a demo. I’m not great at being overly positive but I think this game has a broad appeal, so fingers crossed it captures people’s interest and make its funding target.
DITD: What advice would you give to someone looking to design their first game?
RM: People tend to design in very different ways, but I’d say play testing has the biggest impact on a game’s development. Start with playing it through yourself, then with friends, then take it further afield like to board game cafés or conventions as most have play test zones. Listen to all the feedback after and during the play test, filter through it with hindsight, then apply the changes that make sense to you (if any). I’d also say that most new designers get worried about people stealing their ideas which makes them cautious about showing their games around, whilst yes this is possible it’s also very rare, it’s more important that you get your game / idea played and developed to a point where you can confidently show it to publishers for consideration.
DITD: Where can people find out more about you and your games?
I can be found in the following places:
DITD: Just for fun, what would you say is the greatest movie of all time, and what makes it so great?
RM: The Princess Bride. It’s got everything, romance, action, humour, death, magic conkers, Kevin Arnold, Columbo, should I go on? Okay, André the Giant, a six fingered man, inconceivability, swamp rats, Peter Cook. More? Erm… vengeance, monologues, fantastic insults… okay I’m done!
DITD: Great choice! Thanks very much for being here, Robbie, it’s been a pleasure, and best of luck with the upcoming Kickstarter.
RM: No problem!
And so concludes the first in the An interview with series. I very much hope you enjoyed that. Thanks again to Robbie for agreeing to chat.