Skip to Content

Responses to Dave Shapiro's Questions for a Risk Book, Part 1

In December 2012, Dave Shapiro contacted me to contribute to a book about Risk he was co-authoring.This took the form of answers to a series of questions. And it turned out to be about 5,000 words, 5% or more of the length of the average novel (must have been good questions!).

Dave’s co-author later suffered ill health, and the book was ultimately published in Kindle form (Risk: The Book: A Compendium by Dave Shapiro), without my contribution. So here are my answers, slightly edited, eight years later. (This will be in five parts.)

Dave’s questions are in bold.

When and how did you become interested in playing games?

I can’t recall a time when I didn’t like to play games. Growing up in the 50s and 60s there were many fewer distractions and entertainment opportunities than now - for example I was lucky to get three (black and white) TV stations instead of two, and there were no computer games. (I say computer games because the first computer game I saw, when I was 18, had no video, each turn it printed out a simple “map” of a part of Federation space for a game called “Star Trek”.) So boardgames were very much an outlet for activity and creativity. (I also played sports.) And I started to design games as soon as I was old enough to understand what that meant, for example writing rules for our battles with plastic tanks and soldiers.

You have had some very successful designs (Britannia), do you still play games?

I have a friend who is an excellent game designer but he doesn’t design many games because he likes to play games too much. I don’t have that problem, although there was a 20 year period from about 1984 to 2004 when the only designing I did was modifications to Dungeons & Dragons and the only game I played was Dungeons & Dragons.

My favorite “game” is the game of designing games, really.

In aid of designing games I’ll play a lot. Iplayed Britannia solo more than two dozen times in the six months, testing a new edition. Every new design I get to prototype stage, I play solo several times. But I try not to play my prototypes when other people are playing, it skews the results (I call it the “Designer Effect”). I don’t play the published versions of my games - I made them for other people, not for me - and I almost never play a tabletop game designed by someone else, though I’ll play the occasional simple video game. I don’t want to spend the time to play the more time-consuming video games.

Yet there’s one old video game, Empire Deluxe Enhanced Edition, that I play many hours a month, and have for more than eight years.

If you have a game with more than two players, where you cannot gain an advantage (or disadvantage) from talking with the other players, you may as well call it a puzzle, not a game. I don’t like puzzles, if I succeed, that’s what I should have done, if I don’t, I feel stupid. Why bother?

I’m a people-watcher when it comes to games, trying to figure out why someone likes to play. So I enjoy watching as much as playing, and watching takes a lot less concentration and can be easily interrupted.

Do you prefer playing board games, card games or video games?

If I play a game just for pleasure it’s probably first edition Dungeons & Dragons. Games with cards, though not with a standard deck, can be pretty relaxing because they rarely need to be taken seriously. But I am much more a boardgamer than a card game player, and more of either than a video game player. Most video games don’t have much staying power, and the ones that do can take up so much time that I have to stop and say “I don’t have time for this because I need to design my own games”.

I’m much more interested in strategic games than tactical games. Though much of D&D is tactical, isn’t it?

What is your favorite board game?

It would have to be Britannia. I’d better like it! It’s a good “what happens next?” game, which really helps make solo play more enjoyable. But I wouldn’t play it if I wasn’t playtesting a new version. I go to WBC every year to watch the Britannia tournament, but I never play. Gets funny reactions from the guys, though they’re used to it now. I did play once in the tournament recently, so that two friends could also play. Managed to win, and retired undefeated!

What is your favorite card game?

Probably my as yet unpublished pirates game. It’s a “screwage” game that no one takes real seriously, and serendipitously has the desirable characteristic that players make up their own objectives, such as getting the biggest pirate fleet, or taking a ship of the line or the Spanish treasure fleet. They can enjoy playing even if they don’t “win” according to the game rules. Everything’s better with Pirates!

What is your favorite video game?

For many years, Civilization in several incarnations. Turn-based strategy games in general. I don’t have the quickness (6'7" people rarely do) or dexterity, especially at my age and with arthritis in my hands and wrists, to play real-time strategy anymore, and even when I did play a lot when I was younger (Total Annihilation!) I had to slow it way down to enjoy it!

But for the past several years I’ve played (far too much) one old (2004) wargame, Empire Deluxe Enhanced Edition.



Great Q&A


Always a pleasure to read your comments on the gaming industry, along with your personal triumphs and failures in the board game design space. Your experiences serve fledgling and veteran designers well, especially as your experiences are also provided through an academic lens. While I'm a bit embarrassed to say I have yet to play Britannia, I do look forward to getting it to the Gaming Table. All the best and thank you for sharing this with us.

Professor's Lab

Thanks, Joe. I was

Thanks, Joe.

I was interested to see how little had changed in the five years since I wrote these answers.

Is there going to be a PART #2 to #5 to this???

Hello Dr. Lew, just curious to read "PART #2 to #5" to this Q&A... Are there more question in regards to this topic??? Let us know and share those questions with us... Would really enjoy reading up your answers and general feedback.

One single comment, it seems like myself, you PREFER "Designing" over actual PLAYING of "Video and TableTop Games"! I can truly say that I feel the same way... Nowadays if someone talks about a "New" game or one that I've never seen before, I usually google "<-game name-> Tom Vasal" so I can watch a review from The Dice Tower.

From there I can usually figure out if the game is INTERESTING to me ... The games we like may vary. Although I enjoyed designing TradeWorlds the early draft of that design was done while I was "hospitalized". Sort of a bit of a dark period in my life. I spent most of my waking hours writing in a notebook as I recovered in the hospital.

So while I like "TradeWorlds", my own game, I won't say it's the game that I like best... For me, it would be a DREAM to design and develop the 2nd Edition of "Quest Adventure Cards(tm)". With so much more experience and understanding ... It would be a great effort. But I realize that CCGs are not generally accepted by the market (TBH). So while I may DREAM about it, the sad reality is that the game (even with AWESOME combo of mechanics) will NEVER see light. And that's a bit too bad...

Anyhow would love to read some more Q&As to see what other questions he asked you and how they related to the industry, your personal preferences, and my own perspective in reflection of your answers!


"Quest," there are four more

"Quest," there are four more parts, but I've been waiting until the first moved farther down the topic list. All have already appeared on my main blog on blogspot, should you care to look that up.

It appears to me there's less activity here than there used to be . . .

I understand R. Knizia doesn't play other people's games, he doesn't want to use their solutions, he wants to use his own solutions.

I'm old-fashioned, concentrating on playing a few games; no interest in cult of the new.

Ah okay... I'll wait for them to appear on

Okay I'll be waiting for the rest of them! As far as activity is concerned we still have a pretty solid group ... But some people have been busy IRL like @jay103 or @evansmind244 ... They used to be more "regular" but like I said sometimes you get busy and don't necessarily have the time (as before).

The Professor (Joseph E. Pilkus III) also found the same sentiment when he posted his "Call for Designers in 2021". As I explained to him we are a smaller group and if you want to engage with the group... Well you need to contribute and get our "regulars" interested in what it is you are working on...

Yes it's very true that R. Knizia doesn't play other games and has launched a ton of games (some very clever I must admit: like his racing car game where the ORDER of the cars is the only thing that matters; there is no track...) In any case, I prefer watching videos of New or Old games that I have never seen before. You've got a lot of options nowadays... And then there is always "The Dice Tower"...!

As far as "the cult of the new" is concerned... I like to keep up (as best as I can) with the latest games on KS (not all ... I should pay more attention to them...) sometimes I guess! But NEW doesn't mean better and I don't remember who said something like: "If you put together a bunch of retro/classic games together ... There is ALREADY enough Video Game content to last a LIFETIME!" So OLD/Retro games seem to have a niche and many claim to be better GAMES (not necessarily better graphics).

Anyhow I like reading your threads, they are inspiring. Some may be a bit TL;DR ... But I usually find your opinion or perspective to be refreshing and yielding positive echos on the subject at hand.

Waiting for Part #3... Cheers!

Discriminating Developer

Kristopher (@questccg),

I will say that despite the fact that the vast majority of designers here on BGDF are just starting on their journey and by extension their games are at the nascent stage of development, I'm pleased to have encountered Viktor and the team at Blind Cyclops Games. I've thoroughly enjoyed my play of Para Bellum and look forward to aiding them with their project in the months ahead.

Professor's Lab

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Syndicate content

blog | by Dr. Radut