This is the final installment in our series of interviews with Andreas “ode.” Odendahl about his ongoing development of games. We previously looked at Solarius Mission and most recently, La Granja: No Siesta so check out those interviews by following the links. Now, onto the interview about Cooper’s Island.
Grant: What is the goal of your new game Cooper’s Island?
ode.: In Cooper’s Island the players have to explore an island. Every player has one on his player board. The island has to be explored with a tile laying mechanism. The players need to lay double hex tiles on their island in order to explore the island. The aim of the game is to subdue the island in the best possible way.
Grant: What other mechanics are used?
ode.: As stated above, the core of exploring the island is tile laying with double hex tiles. But the players not only need to explore the island but they have to subdue it. And they do this while engaging with already explored land. So they can build a second level of tiles onto the already explored space and create another level, and another level and so on. So this game is not only two but three dimensional in its tile laying mechanism. The thing about exploring the land is that you gain resources when placing the tiles on your island. And the resources gain value when they are placed on a higher level. So resources on level one have the value of one, while resources on a tile of level three have value three! So it is very interesting to not only cover the open areas on your board but to also cover up already placed tiles to gain the levels! The thing in this game is to find a special timing. Because resources are not worth any victory points. So during the course of the game you try to put sheep, pigs, grain and stuff like that on your island. And those veggie- and animeeples are worth victory points! But occupied land with sheep or cows gives you no resources to help you build up settlements and buildings. So you need to find the right time to switch from build up to gaining victory points.
Another thing I am very proud of in this design is the playable victory points track around your island. Every player has a track of his own and there is a ship circling the island. That ship is your victory points marker. And you can even interact with your own victory point track. Because you can not only explore your big island but also smaller islands near your big island by using the circling ship. So you can place tiles with smaller islands on your VP track and when your ship reaches these islands there is a benefit from this island. So you create your own victory point track in this game. It’s not just for keeping track of your score.
“So this game is not only two but three dimensional in its tile laying mechanism.”
Grant: How many players and what is the proposed play time?
ode.: Right now my plans are 1 to 4 players but I would like to try and see if it is playable with 5 players. But that depends on what the publisher wants. It is always a question of how expensive the components will be. Right now the game is very extensive in this point requiring various tiles and meeples. The playing time differs. The version before my current version had a playing time of 120-135 minutes. But I made some changes to the game because a possible publisher wanted them and now playing time is 180-240 minutes. That is not where I want to be in the end. I am aiming for 90-120 minutes. So there is still a lot of work to do.
Grant: I understand the name has an interesting Genesis. Where did it come from?
ode.: Yeah it does. I wanted my wife to playtest it with me and she only agreed to do it, if she could name the game. And she went for Cooper’s Island because that is the name of one of our dogs. We have three dogs and in addition to that we have three more foster dogs. So we are pretty much dog people. So right now I am trying to find a theme that could fit to that name. But if a publisher will get involved I am pretty sure we will talk about that. Right now it is just referred to as my “island game”.
“I wanted my wife to playtest it with me and she only agreed to do it, if she could name the game. And she went for Cooper’s Island because that is the name of one of our dogs.”
Grant: How long have you been working on this project?
ode.: Actually this project started about the same time as La Granja. But La Granja got serious earlier and for Cooper’s Island I had no idea how to incorporate an action selection mechanism. How the island would work out was set very early but I needed an engine for the game. So while developing La Granja I put this game in my drawer and left it alone for a while. Last year I had the idea how to fuse the island part of the game with other mechanics and it worked out pretty quick. So I playtested it last summer and started approaching publishers. The game is now four years old but I have not worked on it the entire four years.
Grant: Are you still in the play test phase? Has there been much change in the game?
ode.: Yes. It is working but still very rough. Actually I am pretty satisfied with the game play and mechanics and want to simply work on balance now. But once a publisher comes into play there could be significant changes.
Grant: What has been the most difficult part to design? Did you get that part right?
ode.: Actually the action selection was quite difficult for me. But I found something. At first it was a simple worker placement mechanism but I shaped it into some kind of “worker movement” mechanism. I cannot say whether I am going to change that again or not. I am not “there” yet. The “worker movement” was meant in a way that the players will not take their workers back. They stay in place and become inactive once they performed the action. And will be active again when the next round starts. But they will be in the same place. So you need to move the workers to another action space if you want to perform another action. And there are ways between the action spaces with costs. So you need to think where you want to go and how you can do this? How to afford the cost to go to the new space? The action spaces are part of a map and you need to travel between the spaces instead of just place a worker there. My intention was for it to be a more thematic worker placement mechanism.
Grant: Who is planning to publish the game? What is its schedule?
ode.: Nothing is decided yet as I am actively looking for a publisher right now. At this moment, I am waiting for feedback from an interested publisher. I was aiming for 2017 with the game but I just cannot say right now. Could be 2018 though. Could be never! That is the way with game development.
Grant: What is your recipe for design? Do you establish theme first or mechanics?
ode.: That is different actually. I like it when the game has a fixed theme early. So I can design the game and develop rules according to the theme. La Granja had the farming theme early and so I designed some of the elements fitting to this kind of theme. Cooper’s Island is a game about exploring an island. This will surely stay. But what island? Or what group of islands? Because everybody has one island…but more important than theme to me is attraction and game feel. I want players to have a certain game feel. I am trying not only to design mechanisms but also special feelings while playing for players. Total attraction for some details. The feeling you are shifting around on the edge of your seat because you cannot wait for your next turn. Anxiously performing your turn, but it is not your turn yet! The player before you is still performing their turn. You just can’t stand to wait for your turn. That is something I like and try to create in my game designs and it gives me the greatest satisfaction to see this working in playtests. When I reach a certain point in the development of a game I always just observe the play. I am not playing myself because I can watch four players play at the same time. When I play myself I am focused on my own performance. But when observing I realize what drives the players and their reactions to my design. And when I see my plans work and the vision I had is realized I am pretty happy.
“I like it when the game has a fixed theme early. So I can design the game and develop rules according to the theme.”
I want to thank ode. for his graciousness and his time in answering my questions so thoroughly about his games. He truly is a rising star on the game design scene and I look forward to playing his games when they are published, especially Cooper’s Island. This game looks very interesting and I can’t wait to see the end product.