"Puzzle Dungeon has a variety of hero types, from the typical fantasy tropes of warrior and priest to cowboys, lawyers, tornado children, and more because 90% of the heroes were designed by KS backers."
- Brian Garber
Note: This is not a word for word transcript of the interview, some grammatical mistakes and other things of that nature were altered. For the full unaltered transcript, go find this interview listed under the interviews tab in The Social Deduction Network discord.
Dino: Alright everyone, press start because we are ready for an 8-bit adventure with Brian Garber, creator of Puzzle Dungeon, which has a deluxe reprint available via a Kickstarter Campaign right now! Now, I want to start with a question of the utmost importance: Nintendo or Sega?
Brian: Nintendo, absolutely!
Dino: Whoo! That's my sentiment. Used to be quite the topic of conversation.
Brian: I regret never playing a Turbografx 16… Bonk looked cool.
Dino: Bonk did look cool, but they may have embellished how many bits of graphics their console offered.
Brian: Most likely. There was a system out around then that claimed to be 32 bit. Leopard? Something like that. Also looked good. I missed all those systems due to Zelda.
Dino: Yes, I went on many quests for that Princess Zelda… We used to argue about which was better: Game Boy or Game Gear. I was a staunch advocate for Game Boy.
Brian: I still have my gameboy. Great system.
Dino: I have my original Game Boy as well. I keep it in a large case shaped like a giant Game Boy. It holds all my old games and accessories, too. Anyway… I happen to be a child of the 1980s, so the look of your game definitely appealed to me. What were some of your favorite video games growing up?
Brian: I went from the original Nintendo, which I got in 86 I think to the Gamecube. Didn't play much in between. I didn't have a ton of games, but if you have Zelda 1&2, Megaman, and Mario, what else do you need?
Dino: I was a huge Mega Man fan.
Brian: Gamecube was great - Soul Calibur 2, Pikmin, Viewtiful Joe. So good.
Dino: I had those and everything in between. Today, my children are quite invested in the Nintendo Switch. It's a beautiful thing...
Brian: Gamecube was the last console I bought. I have a 2ds but I've only put a few hours on it. Too busy drawing or creating games to play them.
Dino: It was nice to play those games, but it's hard to believe that Dr. Wily is still out there… Yes... Life really does have a way of interfering with spending a life devoted to games... So you develop games now?
Brian: Yup. I've been doing it since 2006. I only started putting them out in 2016. I've designed around 80 games at this point, but you'll never see the majority.
Dino: I get that! I consider myself a writer, but no one will ever get to see those first stories… I had to write them to get better, but they are nothing to be proud of...
Brian: Craft is at least 50% of creating.
Dino: But 80... Wow! That is a lot...
Brian: You have to put in the hours to get good at something.
Dino: Very true! Here at the Social Deduction Network, we love social deduction and werewolf games, so I was thrilled to learn that your game includes a werewolf. When you first included it, were you cognizant of games like werewolf or did you simply include it because they are one of the most common horror figures like Draculas and Frankensteins? Note: I am aware that there is only one vampire named Dracula and that Frankenstein is the scientist who created the monster. I was just trying to be funny or something.
Brian: I included it to fill out the monster roster, but I love making references to games, movies, books. There are a bunch of references in my other game To the Death.
Dino: Ah! I do want to ask about To the Death later in this interview...But we'll get there. Is there any reason why the werewolf is labeled as a monster instead of a hero?
Brian: It would be a bit odd to nod at social games in a solo only game lol
Brian: Puzzle Dungeon has a variety of hero types, from the typical fantasy tropes of warrior and priest to cowboys, lawyers, tornado children, and more because 90% of the heroes were designed by KS backers. The monsters are more down the line generic monster types.
Dino: What are some of the references we might discover in Puzzle Dungeon, since you bring it up?
Brian: If I'd have known when I started how weird the heroes would get, I'd have invested time in making the monsters more memorable. One of the heroes designed by a backer is wearing Jace's robes from MTG. Another is wearing the famous boots from The Good Place. Lots of stuff like that. Warhammer armor is in there. everquest characters, etc.
Dino: Whoa! The Good Place? Wasn't expecting that... Playing this game might lead to discussions about ethics… You compare your game to Solitaire. For those of us who are unfamiliar with Puzzle Dungeon, how does the game work?
Brian: At the beginning of the game, you choose a hero. Then you choose five types of monsters (there are four per type). You deal the monsters evenly into four columns. The columns were inspired by traditional solitaire games. You can only attack the monsters at the front of the columns. You have a deck called the arsenal, which is 32 cards, a poker style deck, from which you draw a hand and deal a pile in front of you. You use the cards in the pile from top down to attack, supplemented by the cards in your hand. The goal is to defeat the monsters on your hero card. Every hero is unique and there are 300+ to play.
Dino: And each Hero has different win conditions?
Brian: Correct. Some are hunting groups of monsters, like all four humanoids, three terror and so on, while others are trying to do something less specific, or even something not focused on monsters at all. For instance, a few heroes are trying to collect cookies, one is launching a space shuttle, one is trying to achieve world peace.
Dino: If collecting cookies makes you a hero, then I deserve some recognition.
Brian: One of my backers had suffered an aneurysm. She said she did everything backwards and wanted her card to reflect that, so her card has to rebuild the deck instead of using it.
Dino: That's interesting!
Dino: Sounds like a lot of replay-ability! And pretty cool how these roles you create can collectively speak to such a wide group of people.
Brian: There are a bunch of heroes like that. My best friend backed a card. He designs alternate reality games and was in the escape room world championships, so his card is the escape artist.
Brian: That is the hard mode. The normal version has an ability, but this was fun.
Dino: I used to play solitaire on the computer and I lost more times than I won, especially when certain variants were in place. Was I really bad, or is Solitaire just a game that is not always possible to win? And is your game just as challenging?
Brian: Only one hero in Puzzle Dungeon can lose to null deals. I play a ton of spider solitaire, and I dislike that feature of traditional solitaire games. I made sure that that's not possible in PD. The one hero that it can happen to I've noted as the hardest hero in the game. It was designed that way on purpose. When you defeat a monster in Puzzle Dungeon, you gain its loot ability. These abilities are essentially your toolbox. Some monsters seem underwhelming most games, but they're there to pull you out of a bad situation.
Dino: Love the look of these things! Makes me want to start playing Battle Toads or something...
Brian: I mentioned the arsenal you deal in front of you. You can only use the front card, going down in order. The Cyclops seems boring in most games, but if you ever have a bad run in the arsenal, he'll pull you out of it. Talk about a game that was unfairly hard.
Dino: I could see that being of use. Yes... but it was fun, so I never complained.
Dino: There was nothing worse than a hard game that was not fun. Well, maybe an easy game that was not fun... No... hard was worse...
Brian: Exactly. I've heard from players that when they lose, they don't feel frustrated, but that they could've done something better. That's what I go for. Challenging but fair. I've played too many solo games that kill you on a die roll or something and I just totally check out.
Dino: That's the best gamers can hope for, and something good for which to strive. Do you think that if they made a third Wreck It Ralph that it might be about him destroying 8-bit board games? I would watch that…
Brian: I imagine it'd be VR, but you can dream.
Dino: Hmm... Ralph breaks out of the game and enters the real world, which he is able to do because... plot twist! The real world is nothing but a simulation! But... let's get back to your game… You do the art yourself, is that right?
Brian: Yes, I'd never be able to offer $10 custom cards if I had to pay an artist!
Dino: Ah! How long does it take to design these things?
Brian: The art takes 2-4 hours. The design takes 10-20 minutes. Testing takes several hours.
Dino: For just ten extra dollars, backers can request a custom hero card, which becomes part of everyone’s game. I guess the fact that you are the artist allows you to offer such an amazing thing for such a low price. Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all that work?
Brian: Nope. During the last two campaigns, I averaged 35 cards a week, which is fast enough to not get drowned in it.
Dino: You must have a passion for it, otherwise, you would drown, I think.
Brian: During the first two months of quarantine I created 180 new cards for To the Death for fun. It's what I do anyway, whether commissioned or not.
Dino: You always offer to create custom cards through your website, correct? How should completionists go about adding these cards to their collection? I mean, after the campaign ends, you'll keep designing them upon request, right?
Brian: Well, I was planning on putting them in a pack on etsy, but all the cards that have been created since the last campaign are going to be in the new one. After this campaign ends and they start building up again, I'll have to figure something out. Probably just packs on Etsy.
Dino: I see. You won't just have another kickstarter campaign where players can choose to just get all the new cards, again?
Brian: I could. Kickstarters are tricky due to shipping costs.
Dino: Very true. That's where they get you...
Brian: International shipping is unbearable, and if the USPS gets shut down, who knows what will happen.
Dino: What could possibly go wrong with the postal service? …Don't answer that question…
Brian: It keeps me up at night!
Dino: You offer many different tiers with your campaign. Players can go for the base game, just the new cards, or everything that has been made for the game in a nifty box large enough to carry all cards sleeved. Now, just how many cards will this thing come with?
Brian: I started with a bit over 300 heroes. After all the customs it'll be at least 400, maybe 450. There are 80 monsters, 40 traps/treasures, and 32 arsenal cards. So too many!
Dino: Oooh! It comes with too many? Nice!
Brian: Way too many!
Dino: Way too many? Even better!
Brian: On the other hand, what other game can you play over 400 times without repeating content?
Dino: Hmm... Probably a social deduction game. Excited about getting my big box, which will come with a WereDINO card! In my opinion, it is always nice when games come with WereDINO cards! Yes, Everyone! I went for the custom card option... I said we would come back to "To the Death." "Puzzle Dungeon" is not your only game with an 8-bit design. You also have To the Death. What is this game like?
Brian: To the Death is a combat focused card game. You use a champion, fighter, magician, and mender and battle four monsters and a monster king. It also uses the arsenal deck, but in a completely different way. Like Puzzle Dungeon, backers created cards for it, so there are 44 heroes of each class, 64 monsters, and 44 monster kings.
Dino: So is it for two players?
Brian: One or two. The two player game is a skirmish game between two parties of heroes instead of using monsters. The colors here are a bit off since the cards are set for CMYK which is print settings.
Dino: Will we ever see a To The Death Deluxe Edition?
Brian: Yes, coming early next year. It will include all the new stuff I made, plus more backer cards.
Dino: What? Excellent. Maybe this game can get a WereDINO card, as well...
Brian: The original set was all desert cards, but I designed expansions set in the snow, on the sea, in the far east, and more.
Dino: Do the different settings affect gameplay, or is it just for aesthetics?
Brian: They didn't when it was just desert, but one of the expansion features are new abilities that heroes with that background have access to.
Dino: Ah. I like when expansions open up new possibilities like that.
Brian: So heroes in the snow can build a fire to rest, and so forth.
Dino: Brian, will you ever consider designing a really cool social deduction game with this art style? Some hidden identity game with unique mechanics that includes a werewolf?
Brian: I prefer designing solo games, but recently on reddit someone mentioned the idea of a social deduction game based on the movie The Thing and that got my wheels turning.
Brian: I like the idea of a SD game with a board so you can deduce who's doing what based on where people are.
Dino: That sounds interesting.
Brian: I need to flesh it out, but I have some ideas on where I'd like to go.
Dino: Well... hopefully something happens with that some day. It sounds like it may be far off in the future, so we'll see what happens there. Do you have any other games in the pipeline? Do you think your next board game project will be in the same vein as Puzzle Dungeon and To the Death or will it be something completely different?
Brian: I've been working on a legacy game set in a haunted house that I'd like to put out. It's pretty crazy, over 500 cards and has to ship in sleeves, so I'm not sure how feasible it is. It may be something I just don't make any money on
Dino: It has to ship in sleeves? What do you mean?
Brian: Cards are double-sided, so after the first time you go to a location, fight a monster, whatever, you flip the card around in its sleeve to its explored side.
Dino: Ah! So the sleeves would not be clear on both sides.
Brian: Going to the basement and doing certain things might cause it to flood, so the next time you go there it will be underwater. Doing something in that condition might trigger an unlock to replace it with something else. Rooms and enemies can evolve several times.
Dino: If it's easier or more affordable, couldn't the game just come with the sleeves and the cards with warnings to the players on the packaging not to look on the backs while they sleeve them?
Brian: I want the surprise, honestly. My play testers have loved that experience of flipping the cards.
Dino: Yeah, but... players would want the surprise, too. I think they would follow those directions.
Brian: Maybe. I want to provide a specific experience.
Dino: Especially considering how that would probably make the process less expensive and such...
Brian: If I did this for the money, my custom cards would cost more than $10!
Dino: I'm sure that's true... But even with that being true, you can still make a little more of it here and there. So you can later make more games for the world. We all want creative people out there able to make games.
Brian: Eh. I have a career and a compulsion to make stuff, nothing will stop me!
Dino: What about Gannon? Bet you didn't consider him when you said that...
Brian: I think he's President...
Dino: Ha! Ugh… Probably best to steer clear of politics, though… That triforce of power can cause some real damage...
Brian: Be bold or invite shame.
Dino: I never invite shame, but it shows up anyway. At any rate, this was great, but it looks like it’s Game Over for this interview. Thank you for stopping by to talk to us, Brian! Puzzle Dungeon Deluxe is available on kickstarter right now! Become a backer, today!