This week we have Phil Walker-Harding, a game designer who has created games such as Sushi Go Party!, Imhotep, Archaeology: The New Expedition, Cacao, Pack of Heroes and most recently Bärenpark. Along the way he has worked with such publishers as Kosmos, Gamewright, Z-Man Games, Abacusspiele and Wizkids.
Hello Phil, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm from Sydney, Australia and I have been designing games for around 10 years, and doing it a bit more seriously for the last three.
Now we know a little more about you, I have to ask, as a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
The earliest memory I have of this is wanting to be an author. I was very into reading in primary school and I loved to write my own stories, so the thought of getting to do that all the time sounded great! I studied film at university and have also played music, so I guess I have always wanted to go into a creative field.
So how did you first get involved in making board games?
From a young age I played board games with family and friends, and even designed some with my brother and my cousin. Of course, they were very simple and mainly pretty silly versions of the roll and move games we played. When I got into modern board gaming as an adult, I instantly became interested in designing again. After a bit of practice I decided to try my hand at self-publishing my first game, Archaeology.
When you are working on the art of a board game can you give us a quick overview of your creative or thought process and has this changed at all since you first started?
When I was self-publishing my designs I started out doing the artwork myself. I had some graphic design experience which was very useful, but I am not much of an illustrator! However, I always tried to make the artwork clear, simple and contribute to the atmosphere of the game. I always started with trying to imagine how the game should look on the shelf, and also on the table. If someone sees the game, or walks past it being played, what art style will draw them in? Now that I no longer self-publish, I obviously have less chance to do artwork. However, I always try to make my prototypes at least somewhat evocative for the players. I think late in the design process, applying good artwork to a prototype can help make the theme and the gameplay experience start to come alive.
You were involved in the creation of Bärenpark, so could you tell us a little bit about what that involved and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
I started designing Bärenpark with just the simple idea that I wanted to do a game involving polyomino tiles. It took a whole lot of churning through concepts and testing to figure out where I wanted the game to go and what I wanted the focus to be. I would say the biggest single design challenge was figuring out how players gain new tiles to place. I wanted to give the players freedom to choose their pieces, but I also wanted the decisions in the game to be relatively quick and simple. In the end I used a mechanism I had been developing in another game. When a player covers certain icons on their board with a tile, this allows them to claim particular new tiles and add them to their supply.
What was the inspiration or core idea that drove your work on Bärenpark?
I have always enjoyed games that use polyomino pieces, such as Blokus, The Princes of Florence, Fits and Mosaix. Playing Patchwork more recently re-ignited my interest in doing a game where these tiles would be the main focus. For me, the funnest part of these titles is when you get a piece to fit perfectly in a space and fulfil a plan you have been working towards. So when I started the design that became Bärenpark, I tried to make these moments happen often and be the real payoff for the players throughout the game.
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
For me, inspiration for game design usually comes from playing games rather than any other medium. I always try to play new and unique games as well as games outside of my comfort zone to see if any new ideas trigger in my brain. One day I'd like to design a more complex design that required research and interaction with other creative areas, but this hasn't come up for me much yet. Although, I did eat a lot of sushi when designing Sushi Go!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work in the board game industry?
If you want to be a designer, all I can say is - design! Keep working on improving your games and getting them out there. Don’t wait for a big break, use avenues like print and play to just get your games in front of people. You will learn and grow from each experience. Publishing, even on a small scale, is quite a big job in terms of logistics and administration, so make sure you are ready to take that on if you choose that path.
Do you have any current projects underway, or coming up that you’d like (or are able) to tell us about?
My new tile-laying game Bärenpark is just being released in English now through Mayfair Games. There is nothing else ready to announce just yet, but expect some new additions to games I have already worked on ;) Lately, I have been trying to design something in the social deduction genre, so hopefully that will also turn into something one day!
Finally, if we’d like to see more of you and your work, where can we find you?
I have a little web site at www.philwalkerharding.com and I’m also on twitter: @PWalkerHarding