Andy Hopwood - Boardgame Designer, Rules Mechanic
Andy's childhood influences
Even though it could be argued that we are currently in a golden age of board games I feel fortunate to have grown up in Birmingham in the 1980's. It was arguably the beginning of the acceptance that board games could do more than just monopoly, scrabble and chess. Games Workshop proved to be an excellent inspiration. Back then it was packed with all kinds of board games from Block Mania to The Awful Green Things From Outer Space. At 14 I was given (thanks mum) a copy of The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain adventure book and I have always cited this as the beginning of my relationship with gaming of all kinds.
Approach to games
I have always looked for the unusual and the untried. I know that almost all game systems are out there in some form or another, but that doesn't stop me looking for something new. I have never felt any desire to recreate a system that I have experienced before. This means that all my games are quite varied in style and mechanics. I do admit that I am attracted to push your luck games and games in which you are given a tricky situation and you need to find the best route to success.
Laugh Think Swear - preferably all at once.
One thing that does connect my games and, in my opinion, all games that are worth playing is the connections between humans. There are plenty of mathematical games that leave me a little underwhelmed. Without interaction there is very little laughing or swearing. Ultimately games are just a good excuse to bring people together so I endeavour to make the most of that situation. The subtleties, mistakes and delight that occurs when you add humans to a set of rules is what creates the magical moments that we all crave in life, so why not in games? I think it's what all designers should be striving for.
Andy can be contacted here - firstname.lastname@example.org
First game, first steps into publishing.
Fast forward to 2008 and having made games for fun, just for friends and family, since 1984 I felt inspired to take a step into making games for strangers. This is a scary prospect for the closet designer and I needed a push to get going. At this point my son was at The National Institute for Conductive Education and I wanted to do something to support them. So I dedicated Niche to raising money and awareness. Conductive Education supports and provides therapy for people with Cerebal Palsy, Parkinsons and other related conditions.
You can see lots more here https://conductive-education.
Niche - the gameplay in a nutshell
I describe it as reverse Uno meets sudoku but 7.5 times less complicated than that sounds. It's a deck featuring 9 distinct types of card connected by colour or shape. In your turn you may NOT play anything that shares a colour or shape with the last card played. When you play you create an ever expanding grid of cards. The second significant feature is that you may NOT play in a line that already contains an exact match. You score for the length of the line(s) you just played into.
Niche - Taking the plunge
It's a scary thing putting your design out there for all to see. Spending your own money to make it a reality (kickstarter was not on my radar back in 2009). Committing to support the charity was the motivation I needed to see the job through. It was a bumpy ride as I made some mistakes (always always see a proof copy of everything before committing to a big print run). It was worth it though as afterwards I was a published games designer and I had a game that is an excellent little puzzler. I would say Niche plays best in a mixed group of adults and children as it's a great leveller that introduces children to the concept of playing to the environment of the group rather than just playing your own game.
Niche is available from www.hopwoodgames.com
Gameplay - Described as the sweet spot between tic-tac-toe and chess. You get pieces with four different powers (two of each). Each power dictates where your opponent can play next. You are trying to make lines of three in your colour but being told where you can and can't go by your opponent makes this harder than you might think. It is simple, thoughtful and elegant.
Mijnlieff - The name
I came up with the idea for Mijnlieff in 2009 when we were visiting friends. Their surname is Mijnlieff. Now at this point I should explain that I tend to come up with at least one new game idea each week, it's hard to know which ones will make it so they get given a name that fits at the time. Normally that name gets changed. This one stuck. I had in mind that if it was at all popular I could change it later.... Then it won an award. Since then people have often told me to change it as it makes no sense, my argument is simple and I hope conclusive. Take the words "back" and "gammon" ... put them together ... I rest my case.
First Expo - The award weekend
Mijnlieff originally appeared as an afterthought on my stand at the UK Games Expo in 2010. I was selling Niche and the first 25 copies of Mijnlieff were ready so I had them with me. On the Friday evening at the hotel I schmoozed my way around a few people and explained my games. My pitch for Niche has always been that I want it to raise money and awareness for the charity and maybe one day a millionaire might play it. The following day one of those people dropped by my stand, bought a copy of Niche, a copy of Mijnlieff and then said.. "You have met a millionaire" at which point he wrote me a cheque for the charity that instantly made the whole weekend worthwhile. But then the weekend got better as Mijnlieff won the award for best abstract, quite remarkable as I only had 25 copies to sell! Afterwards I was told that one judge had awarded it their first ever maximum score, at this point I started to realise I had something special.
Mijnlieff - The New edition - 2020
Marcello from XV Games contacted me this year to ask if he could produce a version of Mijnlieff in his Bagstracts range. He's already made some great games so I was happy to say yes. What we have now is a highly elegant product that promotes the game beautifully and after ten years of making handfuls of copies Mijnlieff has finally reached a more professional footing. I am really looking forward to the next step.
Mijnlieff - The future
I am working on a new rule set that takes the core of Mijnlieff and expands it to be a more thoughtful, more chess-like game. It has a longer playing time, in-game development, ebb and flow and an endgame that is more succinct. So watch this space :-)
Mijnlieff is available from www.hopwoodgames.com
Gameplay - I always say that if you can pick a card up, put a card down and are happy to push your luck then you can play Dodekka. There will be a line of cards featuring values from 0 to 4 and the sum of these is what matters. In your turn you can either take the face up card nearest the deck or turn over the top card of the deck and add it to the line. If you just made that line add up to more than twelve you bust the line and take all the cards. At the end of the game you only count the points on the cards in one colour and all the other colour cards count as 1 point against you. So you ideally only want one colour but that rarely happens. One last rule that encourages risk taking, if you bust BUT you matched the number on the previous card you do NOT take any cards (even if you wanted to).
Elevated by humans
This is definitely a game that comes alive when you add human beings. In fact one fan of the game proudly told me that it nearly got him and his friends thrown out of a pub when they were getting too noisy playing it. The concept of death or glory fits this game like a glove and I have had many many happy evenings teaching "non-gamers" that they actually can have fun playing games.
I will always associate this game with the chance to meet Chris Barrie aka Rimmer from Red Dwarf. The excellent team at Coiled Spring Games (who restored my rather battered faith in publishers by the way) put on a great show at the UK Games Expo promoting Dodekka. I did my shift in teaching the game and signed a few copies. Then i got a tap on the shoulder and it was none other than Mr Barrie who had been cajoled into making this designers day by pretending to want my autograph! I was starstruck and mumbled various fan cliches but I did muster up the sense to excuse myself by saying "sorry about being startstruck but I only just met you, you get to see you every day". This vague stab at wit was immediately trumped by my 7 year old son thumping him in the stomach asking if he was "really a hologram". Mr Barrie expertly responded by saying he had his hard light drive on today. Naturally I apologised for my son assaulting him saying that it must happen all the time, with no hint of sarcasm he replied "that's the first time it's ever happened". I felt simultaneously embarrassed and proud.
Dodekka is available from www.hopwoodgames.com
Gameplay - This is probably my most complex game so far and was descibed by Mike Barnes as "an engine designed for fun". It's a hidden identity race game where all the pieces are impelled towards a terrible fate. When the round ends at least one ball of fluff will have fallen foul of the vacuum cleaner but it is the fluff nearest to that perilous place who will take the win! Each choice a player makes runs the risk of giving opponents a clue to their identity. Added to this there are actions on each room space and magic charms that let you cheat using static you earn along the way.
Feeling the kick from Kickstarter
This was my first kickstarter and it was another learning curve (when do these curves start going downhill?). There was a lot of things I should have done differently, using the tried and tested methods of other successful project managers. Apparently I am not quite wired up the same and whilst most of the time this was a disadvantage I was complimented on the fresh approach and interaction with the backers, so that's something, right? In the end we reached 102% funded and 174 backers and I am eternally grateful to all of them as I believe Daring Dustbunnies is an excellent game with great components.
The human factor in all games
The metagame in Daring Dustbunnies is apparent and quite often it's the smallest hesitation or the reluctance to play an obvious move that gives you away. I love to see the players cast suspicion around or to brazenly admit who they are when there is just no other option. Spending all your static to drag a ball of fluff out of the vacuum tube is almost always a give away no matter how much you protest that it's a double bluff, honest. Once again it's the human element that makes all the difference and so far the reactions from customers has been a great reinforcement of this.
The phenomenal feedback
I feel that the feedback we have been getting for Daring Dustbunnies is some of the best for any of my games and it really does inspire confidence that this game will be a firm favourite on many shelves for a long time to come. In fact it's so good I just had to share some here :-)
"We love Daring Dustbunnies! Bursting with fun and layers of decision-making, bluffs and bravado. We've already played 20 games and we need more. Every games different and never over until the end of the last round."
"Fantastic fun game. Well made and has lots of strategy opportunities in chaining actions and controlling your outcome. I really enjoyed the hand management, variable floor plan between rounds and quick setup."
"The more you play this game the more intricate and strategic it becomes. You really want to master it so you can beat your opponents through thinking ahead. I also love the fact that the pieces are 'real' characters with backgrounds and personalities. Great artwork too."
Daring Dustbunnies is available from www.booghe.co.uk with free UK postage.
Weird Experience: Andy meets Bez on YouTube