David Turczi, creator of Anachrony, Kitchen Rush and many more joins Diagonal Move to look back at his career so far in the first part of a two-part interview.
DM: Hi David, thank you for joining us. You have been involved with many games during the last few years. How did your career start?
DT: When I was at university, my friend, Mihály Vincze, came back from summer break and said to me “I have designed a game. It’s like Battlestar Galactica only shorter. Do you want to play?”.
Katalin (Nimmerfroh) and I played it and said: “It’s great but it would be better if you did this or that differently”. After a year or so of this we had an early version of the game that went on to become “[redacted]”.
Time passed and, after I moved to the UK, I went on a ‘board game holiday’. The special guest at this event was Richard Ham. We got talking and I showed him a prototype that I was carrying around in my backpack like a treasured secret.
Richard told me to talk to the event organiser, who it turned out was running Ludicreations. By the time I caught the plane back home after the holiday, the game was signed.
By today’s standards, we could have done it better. It was one of Ludicreations early games and it was the first time Mihaly, Katalin and I had worked on a game. I would love to revisit [redacted] as Mihaly’s idea was essentially unique.
A year or two after [redacted] the three of us were invited to a Hungarian designer meet up as the ‘famous’ people who got published. Through that meet up I was introduced to the founders of Mindclash Games, Viktor Peter and Richard Amann, who of course took my design for Anachrony, filtered it through their unique vision and unrelenting maximalism, and made it into the game it is today.
DM: How has the success of Anchrony shaped your career?
DT: Prior to Anachrony, I was talking to a few industry contacts while pitching to publishers and being politely rejected. After Anachrony, I became a ‘somebody’ and all I had to do was try my best and keep learning. Success led to more opportunity which led to more success.
Anachrony was my third published game, however, it was my first ‘professionally thought through’ rather than ‘doing it for the giggles’ project. Seeing such huge success so early in my career has left me wondering whether I will see that level of success again. I have three big games launching this year that at least show the promise of being ‘the new Anachrony’. So, we will see.
I think the main benefit from a career perspective was that working with Mindclash taught me the difference between making a ‘good’ game and making a ‘great’ one. It showed me the development finesse needed to achieve that.
Taking what I learned during the development of Anachrony and applying it to other projects allowed me, around three years ago, to stop pretending that I enjoyed my day job and become a full-time games designer.
I had always said that I would quit my day job when my board game earnings reached 50% of my salaried earnings. Thanks to Anachrony, I reached that point very quickly and I thought ‘why stop there?’. Trouble was that royalties are paid once per year and my rent is due every month.
No single publisher can usually afford to hire someone full time to design games. However, I spoke to my publishers and asked if they could hire me part-time. I was lucky enough that three publishers were able to hire me for one third of the time each.
The other major effect on my career is that I have had the opportunity to work with world class designers –Daniele Tascini, Richard Breese, and Vlaada Chvatil, among others. I have learned and grown from working with them and I am now thought of as an equal in many games designers’ company.
DM: Kitchen Rush is a co-operative worker placement done carried out in real time and now, with release of Rush MD, dexterity elements also. Where did that idea to use that combination of mechanics come from?
DT: The dexterity element wasn’t me. I could never come up with that. Once I did try to combine worker placement with dexterity once, but the design was sent back to me because it wasn’t fun. I jokingly say that I don’t do ‘fun’.
The idea behind Kitchen Rush was inspired by a bus journey where too much luggage had been put into the overhead racks. Every time the bus took a turn, someone had to try to catch the falling luggage. Jumping from one side of the bus to the other to catch the luggage felt a lot like worker placement.
The idea stuck with me and I began to wonder what would happen if worker placement actions were taken in real time.
Initially, I wanted to make Kitchen Rush competitive, but the chaos of the game went against the player experience. Accidentally knocking over other players workers was objectively a good thing to do. However, in a co-operative game knocking over workers is bad for everyone.
I resisted turning Kitchen Rush into a co-operative game for a long time, even though feedback – including some from Vlaada Chavtil – said it would never be fun as a competitive game. Original yes, innovative yes, fun, no. The running time of the timers needed to be too precise and knocking over each other’s workers was too big an issue.
I didn’t want it to be a co-op, had no interest in making a co-op. Then I played Project: Elite which is now one of my favourite co-op games of all time. When Konstantinos Kokkinisof Artipia Games said: “are you sure you don’t want Kitchen Rush to be a co-op?”, I said: “Artipia made Project Elite, if anyone can make Kitchen Rush a co-op it’s you…here are my notes”.
These days the publishing process is a lot less exciting. There are no more crazy bus journey’s. Now I call up a publisher and say: “I want to make a game about tulip auctions” and they hold a publication slot open for a year or two.
On the other hand, it’s a lot more stressful to call a publisher when a design isn’t working and say “do you remember that tulip game we talked about last year…?”
Having to walk back on a game concept has happened twice this year already!
DM: Dice Settlers is a civilisation building, resource management, area control game. Why did you choose to base it on dice?
I was unknowingly looking to create ‘Roll for the Galaxy’ which is my favourite game under two and half hours. Deice Settlers was designed before Roll for the Galaxy was released but it took time to release and Roll beat Dice Settlers to market.
I had played Quarriors and loved the idea but not the implementation. At the time, I was also playing Eminent Domain, which did something no other deck builder at the time was doing. So, I thought “Is there a way I can learn from Eminent Domain and apply it to dice?”.
What actions should we do in the game? Eminent Domain had Explore, Settle, Conquer, Produce, Trade, Research. Great, that can be the starting point. Let’s see what happens. I never took any mechanism from Eminent Domain, but it was my guiding light.
The one issue that Eminent Domain has is that it only has indirect interaction, a feature that I didn’t fully appreciate at that point in my life. I wanted to fight in the middle of the board, so enter the permanent inspiration that is Dominant Species.
I began to wonder what would happen if you could place cubes on the same tiles as other players, tiles that also influence what dice you can buy. What if those tiles also provided special abilities that can improve your actions?
Initially, Dice Settlers was based only on rerolling, so it was a much more random game in its early days. This changed after one of the playtesters said ‘why can’t I just spend a die to set another like in Roll for the Galaxy?’ which led to the introduction of the ‘setting die’.
So even though there are a million dice in Dice Settlers after the first two or three turns there is virtually no randomness at all.
DT: Days of Ire and Nights of Fire are based on historical events. What made you want to try your hand at historical war games?
Days of Ire was my attempt at getting the [redacted] team back together.
We received a message from someone, who later became a friend, saying “It’s the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution next year. I work for a government agency and will try to get a grant for you to design a game about it”. We never did get the grant but by then the game was already too far done to be abandoned. He stayed on as our historical advisor, so it all ended well.
Around the time of the creation of Days of Ire, I wanted to play Twilight Struggle and my playtesters wanted to play Pandemic. As a result, we made a game where I could play Twilight Struggle while they played Pandemic. During playtesting we often had a group that didn’t want to play Twilight Struggle and so the co-op mode was born.
Nights of Fire had an entirely different beginning.
Canadian war game designer, Brian Train, backed Days of Ire on Kickstarter. He messaged to say that 20 years earlier he had designed a game set during the events that happened the week after the events in Days of Ire.
We sat down together and combined his knowledge of how modern counterinsurgency conflict works with my interest in Euro game systems. As a result, Nights of Fire is probably the most Euro-y War game/wargame-y Euro around.
DM: Now that your career is established, what do you think when you look at earlier projects?
DT: As time passes my experience grows and I can see possibilities that were not visible to me at the time of an earlier design.
For example, when I looked at Dice Settlers three years after the original design, it was clear that every interaction in the game was ‘you beat me to something’. There is nothing that could be described as ‘positive’ interaction, where you do something that gives the other player a new idea.
With my improved skill set, I was sure I could improve on this. That is why the Western Sea expansion is about ‘caring more’. There is a bonus that benefits you plus gives other players a benefit. There is a scoring condition that can only buy if another player has already activated it.
One of the best examples in my career of looking back at an earlier project is my experience with Trickerion.
After [redacted] had been released and I was introduced to Mindclash, they asked me to advise them how to improve the game prior to release. I was, after all, the ‘published designer’. Of course, I had no idea, I thought Trickerion was already perfect as it was.
A few years later, after having worked with Mindclash on Anachrony, I was able to ask Viktor and Richard if I could create an expansion.
Trickerion is their baby, so of course they said ‘no’. I replied, “well, I have already made one, if you are interested in looking…?’
Mindclash games are all about the world, about immersion in those worlds. Rather than pitching via the mechanism, it had to be pitched via the story. The story being that now players have become incredible illusionists, somebody wants to be their protégé. If people want to learn magic, there should be a school. If there is no school there must be an old building that could be renovated.
What inspired me is the mechanisms. Trickerion is very much an efficiency curve optimisation game. Money is a utility, excess actions are wasted, victory points get you closer to an engine, but you cannot trade them. The expansion changes that by turning money into victory points, victory points into actions and actions into victory points…
Viktor and Richard looked at it and said: “well, if Vlaada let you work on Tash Kalar, we guess you should be good enough for to meddle in ours as well”.
A year of working together later and the Trickerion Collectors Edition speaks for itself in terms of what Mindclash can achieve when they put their minds to it.
DM: What games do you have in the pipeline?
DT: So many things.
This year, there are five major releases with my name on the cover being released either to retail or Kickstarter.
The Defence of Procyon III was my dream project. It’s a space battle themed, team based, asymmetric area control game with both land and space combat.
Excavation: Earth began life as a game about unicorn racing and is now a market manipulation game about aliens uncovering artefacts to sell to the galactic art market.
Tekhenu, which I co-designed with Daniele Tascini. This is a dice drafting game set in Ancient Egypt. As the sun moves, an obelisk casts a shadow which influences the actions that can be taken and the value of the dice. I like to think this game fills the gap between the engine building of Trismegistus and the ‘points squeezing’ of Teotihucan.
Tawantinsuyu is my Inca themed worker placement game. There are 88 worker placement spots but it’s not a soup of actions aimed at converting one thing into another. The cost, the place, the combo, the special effect, the restriction all matter every single time a worker is placed. At a high level it feels like an Italian Euro game with tracks and set collection and so on but it’s actually a deep dive into the kind of choices I like.
Perseverance: Castaway Chronicles is a huge project that involved a team of designers. It’s about surviving and exploring an island, eventually becoming the leader of a city while fending off dinosaur attacks.
These are in addition to all the work I do on solo variations for other designers. Just last month I had three games on Kickstarter!
Not bad for a career that began as a series of lucky incidents.
(David joins us for a closer look at the design and development of his forthcoming games in Part 2 here)