Tabletop gaming is booming in Australia at the moment. Here in Melbourne, you can find a playing group or a games event on pretty much any day of the week. With more and more players joining the hobby, Australian games designers are also gaining prominence. And rightly so! Recently Games vs Play chatted with Sye Robertson, a boardgames designer based in Melbourne. The Games vs Play team first met Sye at MeepleCon 2015, when Sye’s first game Robots & Rockets had just been released. In this interview we talked about Sye’s upcoming games, and how Sye became a games designer.
GvP: Thanks for meeting with Games vs Play, Sye. My first question is, how many games have you designed, or are currently working on?
SR: Hi! I have two published games, and have about six or so in development. I also have many others that have not gotten past the initial concept stage.
[One of Sye’s games currently in development is Mecha Ultima, a robot gladiator game that combines tactical gameplay with a unique betting mechanic. Check out some of the concept art on the right]
GvP: Congratulations, that’s very impressive! So, how did you start your career as a boardgames designer?
SR: I am a graphic designer in my ‘real life’ and in 2014 decided that since I love playing games so much I might try to make one. So putting my design thinking skills towards games was an easy transition, but making a game was hard work. After 7 months of development I was lucky enough to have it picked up by Rule & Make in January of 2015, then it was released in October of 2015. During 2015 I was working on another game for R&M (it is scheduled for release in 2017/8), as well as a game for The Salvation Army called Just Chocolate. I also had been working on a card drafting game, and in September of 2015 it was also signed to R&M where it has grown and matured since then. We are hoping it will be ready for release in 2017. My ‘big break’ came from being a part of the Tabletop Game Designers Australia Facebook group and then meeting members at a pre-PAX AUS get together in 2014. It was at that meetup that I showed Allen Chang Robots & Rockets and why they approached me in 2015 to publish the game.
GvP: How did you first get into playing boardgames?
SR: Our family played boardgames often growing up. Mostly the classics like UNO, Monopoly, but also Stratego, Cluedo, and a card game we call ‘Old Joe’, amongst others. Then when I was about 13 I was introduced to Risk and it quickly became my favourite game. It was only around 2011 that some friends showed me The Settlers of Catan and thus began my journey into the modern boardgaming hobby.
GvP: I’ll have to look up that Old Joe card game, you’ve got me intrigued now. Your games are quite diverse in their themes and mechanics. Where do you get the ideas for your games?
SR: It varies, but usually through talking to people. I find that discussion sets my brain thinking and then often I get ideas about themes or mechanics and begin there. I also try to play lots of games, with lots of different people, this helps to broaden my understanding of the hobby and players as well as expose me to lots of great themes and mechanics that help when working on my own designs.
GvP: A lot of creative people, such as writers, painters and musicians, end up putting a lot of themselves and their personal experiences into their art. Is it the same with designing boardgames?
SR: Yes and no. Whilst I try to make games that I personally enjoy, I also want the games to let players find ways to express themselves a little. So my goal is usually to try to be as invisible as possible and let players just be immersed in the experience I am creating.
GvP: I’ve heard from a lot people that Robots & Rockets has been very well received by the gaming community, which is awesome. What do you attribute its success to?
SR: Thanks! It’s still early days for the game, but I feel as it’s a light, family friendly game, yet with the potential for some interesting decisions it’s possible for a wide range of players to enjoy. I tried to make it as accessible as I could, while also keeping some strategic elements so that as players get more familiar with the game it still has something to offer them.
GvP: It must be a long process to bring a game from its original idea to selling in the stores. How many people does it take to make a boardgame?
SR: Good question! Lots! While I usually design games alone, there are 100s of people who will go into making the game. From playtesters who help find rough edges and issues, to the publishers, graphic designer, artist, writer and finally the people who actually print and produce the game at the factory.
GvP: You’re based here in Melbourne, Australia. What’s the boardgame industry like in Melbourne?
SR: I feel Melbourne is especially exciting right now, we have multiple game design groups who meet, plus heaps of gamer groups, so it’s possible to find a group almost any day of the week! Plus there quite a good number of retailers down here too. Australia is also growing fast, it really feels like we are in a bit of a boom as far as game design goes.
GvP: As both a designer and a player, what are some other boardgames you like or admire, and why?
SR: Raiders of the North Sea by Shem Phillips is probably my favourite worker placement game right now. It’s such a fun game! Plus the art is beautiful. Honestly there are so many games I love that it’s hard to remember them all right now!
GvP: Yeah, if you’re into games you must be happy to be alive right now. What are some tips you would give to games designers starting out, then?
SR: Don’t give up! It is really easy to get discouraged when starting a game design, that’s normal, we all go through that. The ‘trick’ is to just be persistent and keep working on it. Playtest as much as you can, with as many different groups as you can. Join a group with fellow game designers, if there are none in your area there are plenty of groups online. Also, play lots of games! Play games you don’t think are usually your style, have an open mind and look for what you can learn for every experience playing.
GvP: Great, thanks Sye, it’s been really awesome talking with you. My final question is, what’s next for you?
SR: Trying to finish some of these games! I have 2 that are being considered by different publishers as well as the 2 with Rule & Make, and some others that as yet don’t have solid plan on how to bring them to market. But I love the process, I love seeing people have a good time and hope my games can help in some way to brighten someone’s day.
To find out more about Sye’s games including Rocket & Robots, Just Chocolate and games in development like Mecha Ultima, go to the Games by Sye Facebook page. Robots & Rockets and other great games like Rise to Power and Burger Up can be ordered on the Rule & Make website. Games vs Play wishes to thank Sye Robertson and Rule & Make for the use of images in this post.