Talking to Winsmith Games About Building A 10 Gallon TankJanuary 23, 2020
The Inquisitive Meeple speaking with the guys behind Winsmith Game (David Smith and Travis Winstead) about 10 Gallon Tank. David is also the designer behind the game.
David and Travis, thanks for talking with us about your new game 10 Gallon Tank. Could you tell us a little bit about the gameplay?
Travis: The game centers around creating the most aesthetically pleasing fresh-water aquarium. Similar to other drafting and set collection games like Sushi Go and Sundae Split, the different types of fish score points differently. The gameplay is a simple form of Split-and-Choose wherein a round, players each take a turn splitting the group once into smaller groups. After players split, they choose a group of fish to add to their fish tank. Rounds continue until each player has been the starting player once. After the final round, players tally up scores based on each fish’s criteria and the player with the most points is the winner, it’s that simple!
What is the story behind the creation of the game?
David: The first iteration of 10 Gallon Tank was actually an Iron Chef themed game about chefs competing for ingredients and completing recipes. Instead of splitting and drafting groups of fish, players were dividing a grid of ingredients such as vegetables, meat, and dairy, to complete recipes. More difficult recipes would earn more points but require more ingredients and follow more specific recipes.
Fairly early in development, we removed the recipes aspect of the game and decided we wanted players to earn points based directly on the resources they collect. Thematically, it didn’t make as much sense for players to get points just for collecting ingredients, so we decided to change the theme.
Growing up, I had lots of tropical freshwater fish like guppies, neon tetras, and gouramis. The theme seemed to fit the lightweight set-collection gameplay and players seemed to like it too, so we ran with it.
What makes 10 Gallon Tank gameplay different than other family games or I-Spilt-You-Choose games?
David: Since about 90% of the board games I get to play are 45 minutes or less, I’ve come to love many family-weight strategy games. What brings me back to these games are their elegance, simplicity, and replayability. Sushi Go, Go Nuts for Donuts, Sundae Split, and New York Slice are all great games that are simple to learn and provide many interesting choices and strategies. 10 Gallon Tank sets itself apart from these games in its core mechanic of Split-and-Choose and how that leads to different strategic paths.
In most I-Split-You-Choose games I’ve played, the active player will take resources and split them into groups for others to draft, with the active player taking what is left over. In 10 Gallon Tank, the resources (various types of fish) are shuffled and randomly dealt into a grid. The active player will then divide the one large group into two (along a single row or column). Then subsequent players will split a single divided group into two. After all, players have split, again starting with the active player, they will pick a single group of fish to add to their tank. So instead of the active player having the primary splitting power, they only make the first split among many. This means their initial split can impact how subsequent players split, potentially impacting what their choices for drafting are.
So each round contains two levels of decision making and strategy: 1) How do you choose to split the fish? and 2) Which group of fish do you take? And because the round starts with one group and each player splits once, even the player who drafts last will have a choice from two groups of fish.
What inspired everyone splits every round opposed to traditional I-split-you-choose?
David: I enjoy the traditional I-Split-You-Choose mechanic in games like Sundae Split and New York Slice. It creates an incredibly deep and interesting decision point for the active player making all of the splits. However, we wanted a mechanic that allowed all players to be involved in the splitting each round. Instead of one player making a tough decision that involves multiple splits, we decided to allow all players to be involved in the splitting each round. That way, all players have two completely different decision points each round: How do they split the fish? And which fish do they collect?
There are three aquarium goals in the game, which are simply an overall goal that gives you points at the end of the game. In each game, only one comes out. For example, have at least one of every of the six fish types. Why did you add these goals to the game and do you have a favorite?
David: Great question! The Public Goals are meant to create a point of tension and force players to think twice about which fish to collect. Sometimes during the drafting phase, a group of fish will clearly be worth more points than others. But with the Public Goal, that group may hurt the player’s chance of meeting the goal and bonus +5 Points. It’s not uncommon for players to be within 5 points of each other at the end of the game, so meeting the goal can potentially make the difference between 1st Place and 2nd Place.
My favorite public goal is “Have at least 5 fish of one or more fish types.” Honestly, this is usually the more difficult goal to achieve, which is why it’s my favorite. Players have to be a little more intentional to achieve it.
What was the best price of feedback from a playtester when you guys were still playtesting 10 Gallon Tank?
David: Hmm… it’s tough to narrow down the best single piece of feedback. Currently, once players pick their fish, they are kept hidden from other players, instead of keeping them face-up and public knowledge. We tried having players keep the fish they drafted face-up for awhile. However, we found having the fish face-up lead to analysis paralysis and greatly lengthened the time for players to make their decisions on how to split. Once we had players keep their fish face-down, we realized that simple change made the game fit perfectly into how we wanted players to experience it.
Why did you decide to go the self-publishing route?
Travis: Both David and I share a passion for entrepreneurship. Since high school, we have always talked about wanting to start our own businesses but our professions (both engineering) make it a tough sell to go out on our own (saturated market with huge firms) and both of us having mortgages and families. Creating and publishing games gives us that opportunity to start something from scratch while also being fairly low risk. We have a number of games in different stages of development (over half a dozen) and have considered pitching them to publishers but have always come back to our passion to want to build something from the ground up and see if it’s something we can sustain. I guess it also doesn’t hurt that both of us manage projects and programs at work either, which gives us the confidence that we can handle the arduous process of designing, developing, producing, and distributing board games.
Is Winsmith Games going to focus more on games you design or also publish outside designs?
David: At least our first couple games will be designed in-house. Development of our second game is nearly complete. It’s a 2-player micro card game we are calling Mage Duel where players each select two 4-card “Schools of Magic,” shuffle them together to form an 8-card spellbook (deck), and play spells back and forth trying to reduce each other’s life to 0. We’ve been working on another game called Flicked & Furious for a few years now. It’s a dexterity-based combat racing game and is nearly complete. However, it’s also a massive production undertaking that involves a large neoprene mat and miniatures. So we want to have at least a couple of games under our belt, establish our name and reputation, and learn as much as possible before bringing that game to market.
However, along the way, we would both be open to signing and producing games if the right game came along to us. Ultimately, our goal would be to design and develop some in house and also sign some from other designers.
As we come to a close, we all know that different gamers have different “tastes” in the games they like. Who would you say 10 Gallon Tank for? What kind of gamer or audience are you aiming for?
Travis: I think it’s safe to say that 10 Gallon Tank will appeal to a wide variety of board game audiences. It is a family weight game with a short playtime, so I think it can be used to introduce your family or friends to games and it will serve as a great filler to open a game night or between bigger games. It also features some of the most beautiful art I’ve seen in a game, which will appeal to those people that enjoy really colorful nature-based artwork in their game. We would like to occupy the same section of the board game shelf as the popular set collection games like Sushi Go and Sundae Split and hope that our small footprint allows folks to throw it in their bag and play it on the go.
Thank you both, for taking the time out to do this interview.
10 Gallon Tank is currently on Kickstarter, you can find it by following this link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/740608278/10-gallon-tank