Articles Interviews Q & A with Derek Carver
 

Q & A with Derek Carver Hot

Derek Carver is a name probably best known to many of you as the original designer of Warrior Knights, republished a little while ago by FFG. He's also the brains behind a number of other classic Games Workshop titles such as Dr. Who and Blood Royale. However, he's been working in the game industry for longer than most of you have probably been gaming, and has been involved in an number of different game designs and with a number of different companies over the years. He kindly agreed to spare F:AT the time to share some of the wisdom and anecdote he's accumulated over the course of his career.

* Hi, and thanks for agreeing to take the time to do this Q&A session. Could we start by asking you to tell us a little bit about your background, and how you got into gaming?


That's quite easy. I was born in 1930, so am of the generation and from a background that didn't 'do' dinner parties and the like.  Instead my parents got together with friends to play cards.  In those days everybody could 'play cards', which is why a new card game like 'Canasta' could sweep the world - something that could never happen today.  When doing my National Service the most important question the Colonel wanted to ask me when I was introduced was "Do you play Solo?"  I wonder how many 19 year olds today could give such a confident affirmative response ! So gaming came naturally and boardgaming was simply an extension of this. I still vividly recall the wonderment when I first saw BULLS AND BEARS, but was not allowed to play because 'I was too young'!  But my first eye-opener to what we today would call modern boardgaming was when my wife and I were camping and a friend had brought along a copy of FORMUAL ONE.  Here was a game totally without dice and where one drove one's car as fast as one liked, or was able.  Amazing.  So with our children having started to arrive on the scene, thereby severely curtailing our evening trips out, we started to invited friends for either cards or boardgaming - always followed by a kitchen supper; and this routine of game(s) followed by supper has been followed in our house every week since then.

* How did you get your break as a designer and start to see some of your designs in print?

Due to the shortage of serious boardgames in those days I started to make my own - purely for our own group you understand.  Ian Livingstone of Games Workshop (just one small shop in those days) used to play with us sometimes and grew to know and enjoy some of them. So when they decided to take the plunge and produce their first boardgames I made them a present of my DURANCE VILE, which they wanted to turn into DR. WHO for which they had bought the rights.  I had the mortification of having to demonstrated it at London's annual Games Day in its new guise never having seen it before and had constantly to refer to the rule book! Hardly impressive.  Then WARRIOR KNIGHTS followed because Ian, who always was a most devoted boardgamer, wanted the firm to publish a really 'big'
game and anybody familiar with that original version will know the enormous number of bits involved, so it was quite an undertaking for them.

* Since you seem to be a designer who loves designing games just for the pleasure of creativity, are there any other designs you put together that you'd liked to have seen in print?

To tell the truth the one I'd really like to see in print is DURANCE VILE as I originally designed it (which is nothing whatsoever like its transformation as DR.WHO). It is still extremely popular with our hardbitten group here, and is always requested for a festive celebration, it being a great fun game.  Had Games Workshop published it as it was, they would have produced the first collectible card game by many years. We are still adding cards to it.

* One of the first games you had published was "Dr. Who". I guess you must be a fan of the series, so what made you decided to attempt the very tricky task of distilling the essence of it's appeal into a boardgame? Do you think you've succeeded?

Oh dear. I read this question after I replied to the one above. I know absolutely nothing about Dr.Who. The
guy at Games Workshop who made the transformation was Albie Fiore and he made an extremely good job of it even though in my opinion this was a case where the baby was most certainly thrown out with the bathwater.

* One of your games, Calamity, was developed in collaboration with the famous composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. Can you tell us some more about how he came to be involved in game design, and what he was like to work with?

The game as published was not really mine and I don't think it has been attributed to me.  Like many people, I guess, Andrew came up with the idea for a game, had a prototype made and it was offered to Games Workshop.  I was asked to go along with Ian to meet Andrew and to play his game and then to comment (privately to Ian, of course!).  To tell the truth the overall gaming experience was dire and Ian and I couldn't wait to get away to the local pub.  But it was nothing more than what one would expect. He had had an idea and made some sort of a game out of it and his cronies (I assume they were his cronies) clapped their hands in glee and gave the impression of having a great time.  Probably none of the group, including the designer, played the sort of games we all play.  But this happens to many designers except that in most cases the 'cronies' are family. But at the heart of Andrew's game was what I considered to be an excellent gaming mechanic so Ian and I went our separate ways and I undertook to remake the game but using Andrew's basic idea (and without the jokes - jokes never be ing ideal in a boardgame due to their constant repetition). I came up with a game that I was very pleased with and which is still played here but when it was shown to Andrew he was horrified because he couldn't see any of his game in it! I don't blame him.  I guess that is how it appeared but he was wrong. His gaming idea most certainly was there and I still admire it. So we were at stalemate. The game couldn't be published as it stood and the designer refused to agree to my version.  I wasn't an employee of Games Workshop and had not incentive to work further on it. In the end Ian came up with a sort of hybrid and that is what went on sale. You asked what Andrew was like to work with. Well, apart from the couple of sessions and a meal together I hardly 'worked' with him but I found him good company.

* Several of your titles force players to work together within a rules framework which allows only one winner. What is is about the dyanamics of this sort of interaction which interest and inspire you? Are there other games with a similar dynamic you particularly admire?

I didn't realise that my games were characterised in this way.  I have to say that in those days I wanted a lot of player interaction.  If one may take WARRIOR KNIGHTS for example, the core idea and the one that certainly came first was the wheeling and dealing in the meetings of the Assembly. The Assembly was right at the heart of the original and then I built the game around it. This might not be so apparent in its new version because Fantasy Flight must have seen the Assembly as being just another aspect of the game and it has been sort of moved sideways.  This same thinking features in another of my games (not published) about City Development. Development in the city is supposed to follow along certain lines: the city is zoned for example. But all players are on the city council and as planning applications come before them self-interest comes to the fore and regulations can get flouted especially when a decision has to be made about the route of a ring road that would bring benefits to industrial sites along it but would depress housing site values! So yes, I guess this is the sort of thing I like.  As for similar games, I can't think of any apart from Karl-Heinz Schmiel's excellent DAS REGELN WIR SCHON! But I'm not blinkered.  I tend to like all styles of games.

* Your games show a very diverse range of themes from semi-abstract to theatre management - are you inspired to design a game by theme, or do you start from other points and let the theme develop?

In every one of my games - published and unpublished - theme has always come first even if in the game's final form, such as the original versions of SHOWBIZ, the game has an abstract appearance.  But I think that 'theme games' was characteristic of the time.  It also tends to be characteristic of British designed games even today (Warfrog, and the Ragnor Brothers are good examples).

* On the other hand, you've designed two games with a very heavy flavour of historical Europe - what is it about this period of history that interests you and makes you want to design games set therein?

Medieval history is my great interest so I guess that is what I wanted to make a game about.  I've already mentioned WARRIOR KNIGHTS. BLOOD ROYAL on the other hand wasn't really intnded to be a 'game' in the usual meaning of the word.  It was meant to be a 'system' - just as D&D is a system. In other words it was intended to be an economic game dominated by the personalities of ruling dynasties - personalities who had different personalities, had children with different personalities, and all of whom could up and die suddenly, this being the stuff that medieval history was made of.  (In fact its original title was DYNASTIES but it had to be later renamed when a TV programme bought the word!) Everything that went into both games was based on historical precedent, even though various periods of history were stirred into the pot that produced WARRIOR KNIGHTS. And it is interesting that this is not the case in the new version of WK. I'm not critical of the change.  It is a game after all. But it is interesting to see the difference between UK and US thinking in game design.  Even today I don't think you'd find Martin Wallace including things in a game that were not logical even though, as I say, "It is only a game and NOT history"

* For my money, Blood Royale was one of the most innovative games of the eighties, but our games always seemed to become rather confused from the sheer number of marriage contracts that ended up in play. Did this come to light during playtesting, and if so, why did you settle on the final mechanic for this that you did?

I have tended to partly answer this question above. BLOOD ROYAL (I loathe the incorrect 'E' Games Workshop stuck on the end thinking, I guess, that it made it sound more medieval!) existed in gaming groups where I live (and elsewhere that had made copies) in a number of different formats. It was, as I said, a system onto which players could superimpose such rules as they wished.  Remember that when invented there was no intention to have it published.  In fact its publication came about almost by accident.  I had gone up to Games Workshop (then under its new management)- to discuss another game of mine that they had very exciting ideas about publishing - my NEW WORLDS. The whole day was spent discussing this game.  Then just as I was leaving the owner asked what other games I had lurking on my shelves. I mentioned BLOOD ROYAL and from then on NEW WORLDS was totally forgotten. Its combination of boardgaming and role playing highly appealed to them, so it was BLOOD ROYAL that was published. I
was, of course, very happy about it but also very worried.  It is a game that like D&D has no real end.  It is also pertinent to add here that the developer at the new Games Workshop and I didn't exactly see eye to eye.  He wanted to introduce historical events into the game but I kept insisting that the whole idea behind my game was that the players created their own history and didn't act out known events of the past.  Since I, as always, had the veto on any changes of which I didn't approve we compromised with the two sections of rules in the rule book.  As for the problem you seemed to encounter I have to say we never found this to be a problem nor have I previously heard it mentioned as such.  We played the game for a few hours (everybody seemed to play longer games in those days), established a winner and then all put our components - marriage contracts, etc. - in a sealed envelope. The next time we played we continued where we had left off and the player who had most improved his position was the winner of that session.  And so it went on.  There was a group in Vienna who played these unending games and published a sort of Court Gazette, and when a Royal died a proper obitury was published.  That was the sort of
game I had in mind when I devised it.

* If you were to re-work Blood Royale for the modern market, what, if anything, would you change?

It might sound arrogant but I don't think I'd change a thing.  It was precisely what I intended it to be.  But I don't think I'd attempt to make it for a modern market without considerable changes and I doubt that that would be easy. Fantasy Flight have announced their intention of doing so but the fact that nothing firm has ever been stated indicates, I feel, their understandable difficulty in converting a game of this type into the sort of game most people play today.

* Did Fantasy Flight involve you directly in any of the changes that they made to Warrior Knights? What do you think of the finished product?

No I was not involved in any of the changes nor would have wished to be.  I was highly flattered that a firm of Fantasy Flight's standing should wish to republish the game. I knew they would wish to change it.  As mentioned above, always in my original contracts I disallowed any changes without my permission but now that WK existed in the form that I devised I had no objection to any changes however radical. Accepting that it would be 'different' I resolved not to make any general critical comment either way and have not done so.  I have discussed particular changes in a somewhat detached way because they interest me -  indicating the way thinking has evolved.  To put it in a nutshell the Games Workshop version was very much a British game of the 70/80s, whereas the Fantasy Flight version is indisputably an American game of our own time.

* If you could see any other one of your designs reprinted, which would it be and why?


Hmmm. I don't know. They were all games of their time and times have moved on. Perhaps they are best left where they are

* Who, if anyone, owns the licences to reprint your other tiles, and are you aware of any plans to do so?

Apart from those mentioned, the rights of all games are with me and there are no plans to republish any of them nor am I pushing anybody to do so.  In fact, I've never 'pushed' any of my games - they've sort of slipped in under the door.  None has been sent to a publisher on spec.  Let me give you an example.  At the time of the revolution in Iran it got me thinking about revolutions generally.  Usually they degenerate into factions and various powerful individuals have to carefully assess on which side it is in their interests to be (the side that is going to come out on top in other words), and how much cash they can stash away in a Swiss bank account in the meantime.  (OK - the Iranian revolution didn't turn out like this but I didn't know that at the time!) So I made a game that I called REVOLUTION and it was played here in our group.  Then one day I got a phone call from Albie Fiore who was then working with FASA. They had obtained the rights to make games of the James Clavell novels and were stuck for 'Whirlwind', which takes place in modern Iran.  He then remembered my REVOLUTION.  So I gave him the OK and as always with Albie he made a superb transformation of the game into WHIRLWIND. Sadly the arrangements with the author or his agents subsequently turned sour and FASA understandably got fed up and pulled the plug on the project. But that is an example of the way my games have got themselves published.

* I'm curious as to how and why you suddenly had another design, the set collection game Farfalia, released in 2004 by Mayfair. This represents quite a change of direction from your 80's designs. Can you tell us some more about the game and why you got back in to the industry after such a long hiatus?

I mentioned earlier that I am a card player at heart - and by this I mean a game played with normal playing cards.  Most boardgamers regard standard cardgames as something inferior - although will play them if they are dressed up with special cards and with a theme plonked on.  I felt that designing a good basic cardgame was to a game designer like baking bread is to a cook.  So I set out to do so.  As a group we have favourite games for 3, 4 and 6 players (mostly modern games by David Parlett) but don't have one for 5.  So I was requested to make it specifically for five players, which I did.  (When published it had to be for any number of players, of course, so I had to devise rules for numbers other than 5.  But the core game is for 5.)  Also in the group was one player who unlike the rest was not a natural card player (and who certainly would have failed to impress my Colonel!) so I wanted to make a game where everybody played with everybody else in partnership. I was quite pleased with my efforts and the game is often played here (and the group are no sycophants, believe me!).  That could have been the total end of the story but the rules, which were freely available, were published in an Italian gaming magazine so I gave it the name CHINKWAY (a take on the Italian word for "five" - the game being for five players and with five categories of card).   The folk behind the magazine were then instrumental in forming the company DaVinci Games and asked if they could publish it as a boxed game. I was delighted, of course, because I think it an excellent game for five players.  However, in common with all other publishers they felt they couldn't do so without tacking some silly theme onto it.  Although I could see their point - it was their money after all - I felt it totally demeaned what is a serious adult game. So getting back to your earlier question, this is a game I still have great admiration for and would really like to see published with good quality cards by somebody like Piatnik and without any theme whatsover. Perhaps I should do it!

* What do you think has changed most in the industry overall during the twenty-odd years you've been involved in it? Do you think these changes are for the better or the worse?

Firstly I must correct your "twenty years" to "over forty".  All change has been gradual and all has been good.  We have wonderful games available today from extremely tallented designers. Dice have totally gone - or at least dice as we used to use them back then. No - times are good for boardgamers.

* Any plans for other future releases we should know about?


None whatsoever.  What players often don't understand about game design is it isn't only the designing of the game and making prototypes of the various ideas as they evolve and change, but one then has to get players not only to play the game but repeatedly to play it as it gets fine tuned.  Also to play it in various numbers because this can make it play differently. Believe me, this is a great way to lose friends.  So I'm perfectly happy now to play all of the wonderful games that come our way and also to keep my friends!

* Finally I feel compelled to ask whether you'd ever heard of F:AT before agreeing to do this interview?

I'd like to say "Certainly I have" but I've tried to be completely frank in all my replies! Cheers ,Matt - and thanks for the honour
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Comments (5)
  • avatarBigLizard

    Interesting and informative interview. Thanks Matt. It seems as if getting his games published was as easy as falling off a log although I'd bet there was a lot more to it than he lets on.

    Most boardgamers regard standard cardgames as something inferior - although will play them if they are dressed up with special cards and with a theme plonked on.

    That's a shame if true. A good card game is not inferior and a "plonked on" theme to simply make a card game more attractive is really no theme at all. I enjoy a good standard card game but don't have the opportunity to play many these days. I would think ATers would enjoy a good card game, too, in that many are very interactive with lots screwage involved, involve a lot of strategic thinking and with enough randomness built in so the game doesn't boil down to an optimization exercise.

  • Schweig!
    Quote:
    But it is interesting to see the difference between UK and US thinking in game design. Even today I don't think you'd find Martin Wallace including things in a game that were not logical even though, as I say, "It is only a game and NOT history"


    The Germans have it easier: Their creations are neither game (more work really) nor history (just paste-ons).

    I'd like to read more about the difference in English and American game design though.

  • avatarMr. Bistro

    Nicely done Matt! I would love hear to more from legends of gaming such as Mr. Carver. Viewpoints that have eye to the past are always the most informative and telling. He did say: Dice have totally gone - or at least dice as we used to use them back then. No - times are good for boardgamers. This suggests to me that he is probably more familiar with the newer Euros, but not AT games, which is interesting given some of his most popular work.

  • Schweig!

    It seems to me that Derek doesn't see himself as an AT designer.

  • avatarMr. Bistro

    He would probably detest such a label if he were aware of it.

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