Towards the end of Spiel’ 2014 I interviewed Mike Nud designer of Waggle Dance and game industry veteran Grublin games’ latest board-game offering, we found a nice spot in one of the hidden courtyards, and sipped overpriced Pils in our T-shirts on a surprisingly sunny day last October. As a result the interview went on for a bit so I split into two parts. This one is about the game and the second focuses on his other passion the V:TES ccg
FTN: So you’ve been designing games for a while now?
MN: Yeah, quite a while, probably over half my life.
FTN: So how did you get started in game design?
MN: I don’t know, really. I’ve always been interested in the process from day one. I got exposed to a lot of games as a teenager in short order, some of the kids in my school had a games club and after school we’d go and play D&D. You know my first roleplaying game was Paranoia! Most people’s first roleplaying game is D&D, my first roleplaying game was Paranoia! So that set me up!
FTN: That sent you in a slightly different direction to most people!
MN: But I also liked Games Workshop, so we played some miniature stuff and off the back of that I ended up working at the Games Workshop store in South End, close to where I grew up. In sixth form I met up with more guys, gamers, we went up to Gen Con UK, came back with Magic the Gathering, got everyone into magic the gathering, went to the next one, came back with V:TES, (Vampire: The Eternal Struggle), got everyone playing that because they also played the Vampire roleplaying game. I was just an instigator of mass gaming
FTN: Magic the Gathering was kind of the gaming version of a gateway drug at the time..
MN: It’s quite funny actually; there was three of us in that sixth form, that used to play together; one of us went to work for Wizards (The company that produces Magic the Gathering) as OP for quite a long time, one guy Phil Kelly went to GW and he’s still there, doing a lot of their 40k rules now, and I ended up going off to do some official stuff with White Wolf. It’s quite weird how it turned out.
MN: So yeah, I just like the process of gaming, not just entertaining people but how you construct games, not just board games, roleplaying games, live games, I do a lot of free form live roleplaying; a couple of times a year there’s a big group of us who get together and one of us will volunteer to run a game for 40-50 people, completely scratch built, no official rules or anything,
“A couple of times a year there’s a big group of us who get together and one of us will volunteer to run a game for 40-50 people, completely scratch built, no official rules or anything,”
FTN: Is that how you met Henry (Henry Jasper is CEO of Grublin games, we interviewed him last year, read it here.)?
MN: Yeah, it was through that group I met Henry originally, sort of extended family really…
FTN: So how did you come to pitch your game about bees to him?
MN: I’ve been working on games, writing my own worlds and fiction, other roleplaying and boardgames, sort of dabbling, mini-games for live role-plays. A lot of stuff I’ve been kicking around, I wanted to take it a step further to try and get somewhere.
My first game was for White Wolf, it was the official Vampire: The Requiem board game, probably about ten years ago now (11 actually). I was hoping that would gain some momentum to get me to do some more but CCP took them over immediately after that (CCP are the company behind Eve Online who have now given up on doing anything with the White Wolf IP). They were like “No print publishing, we don’t care about that, la, la, la la” and it all died a bitter death.
“So I said I’ll send you one of my games, see what you think, that was Waggle dance, which was called Honey Master at the time.”
FTN: And then they scrapped what they were doing?
MN: Yeah it didn’t turn out very well, but that is how I came to Essen the first time, because I came with CCP’s official demo group for the EVE ccg, which they were publishing just before they bought White Wolf, and I was hoping “Oh yeah, I’ll pitch you an Eve board game, I’ll pitch you an Eve rpg” and they were like, “No no, we just bought White Wolf we’re going to do it ourselves anyway,” so I was like Goddammit! But nevermind…
So yes, I’m sitting on quite a lot of material for quite a while, and I knew Henry so I followed his Cornish Smuggler campaign, backed the game, really impressed with the quality of the product, you got everything, it wasn’t quite on time but it was close, he engaged a lot with the community, the backers, he was very honest about what was going on, so yeah he impressed in getting it done his first time around. He started his company, Grublin, literally to do his first game Cornish Smuggler and I said to him what’s your next project? He said “I don’t have anything in mind, people have pitched me a few things but nothings taken my fancy yet.” So I said I’ll send you one of my games, see what you think, that was Waggle dance, which was called Honey Master at the time.
FTN: So how did the name get switched to Waggle Dance then?
MN: I kind of left it with Henry really. I said one of the things I’m not sure about is the name but I couldn’t think of anything better and I was happy for it to be changed.
So he went down the pub with all his mates and they brainstormed a massive list. We went through a few probable choices but Waggle Dance was the one that stuck with me the most and it’s all part of the Bee theme, so it’s fine.
So as soon as he saw the game he loved it and wanted to move forward with it…
FTN: Can we talk about the mechanics of it a little? You use dice as your worker placement instead of tokens.
MN: Yeah, that was one of the first decisions I made, the game sort of wrote itself, really. I layed a lot of worker placement games, the game’s probably four, four and a bit years in inception now. I played a lot of the worker placement games when they first came out, it was all the rage at the time, people were like “This the new mechanic!” and everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. Stone Age, Pillars of the Earth, Kingsburg, a few others and they all felt quite claustrophobic, there was a narrow list of choices, someone else takes the thing you want to do and you’re basically screwed for a turn. It’s a very frustrating experience.
I played some of these games. I could see my friends getting frustrated a lot, saying “Oh we’re not sure about worker placement games like this” so I said right, I’ll go away and design a worker placement game that doesn’t feel like that, that gives you more choice so it closes in much more slowly where you’ve got much more control, just so some of my friends would play it!
That was the starting point. So I said “well D6’s (that’s standard six-sided die for the uninitiated) that’s a thing that can be placed, you can use the different values so that’s really good”. Then I asked myself what would the D6 represent, it has to have a theme, the theme has to be integral to the game. So six-sided dice, six legged insects, natural progression, what sort of insects?
I was thinking about Ants originally but bees just made much more sense, so you can have six actions, six flowers, six-sided shapes, sixes all came out and the game literally did to… it all came out, designed itself off the back of that decision.
There were probably only six or seven iterations before I showed it to Henry and not a lot was actually changed at that point, the first version was almost there.
“It’s a very frustrating experience. I played some of these games. I could see my friends getting frustrated a lot, saying “Oh we’re not sure about worker placement games like this””
FTN: How much has it changed since then?
MN: Since showing it to Henry it’s really just been production stuff mostly. The rules didn’t really change at all; some of the content, the queen card deck, we went through that, deciding what cards would be in, what would be out. I actually designed way more cards than are in the box.
FTN: Any plans for a future expansion set?
MN: Could be… they could come back as promos or expansions. We’ll see.
FTN: Do you have any other projects coming up?
MN: Yeah there’s nothing like super imminent but I’m sort of negotiating with a few parties; I’m hoping this weekend to chat to a few more people. I’m not very good at networking, I find it quite hard.
FTN: Do you get Henry to do that for you?
MN: Yeah, I’ve actually been talking to him not just about expansions for Waggle Dance but also for Cornish Smuggler and potentially some other games. We’ll see…
FTN: I look forward to seeing what you guys do next…