Unscripted: These Gardens are Wild
Welcome to Unscripted – a lighthearted and unrehearsed Q&A series with Rose Gauntlet Entertainment founders and tabletop game designers Isaac Vega and Lindsey Rode. Perfect with a side of tea or coffee.
In this edition of Unscripted, we’re celebrating the impending launch of our new game, as we dish on all things Wild Gardens.
What was the inspiration behind Wild Gardens?
Isaac: When COVID was at its peak, I, like many people, was at home a lot. I was on social media a lot. That’s when I ran across foraging TikTok, and found a lot of interesting people doing cool foraging content that I loved. I was particularly inspired by “Black Forager,” Alexis Nikole Nelson, who's done some amazing content in foraging, and through her I found a lot of different other foragers to follow.
I was really excited about what they were doing, and even tried to do some of that myself. What I also found that was really interesting is that I didn't really see too many foraging-themed board games in existence. I thought, “This is such a great topic and so cool. Why don't we have any board games that really reflect that?” So, I decided to go ahead and see if I could come up with one.
Randomly, right before we were supposed to go to our first PAX event (and our first convention since quarantine), I woke up one night and just designed it really quickly. I thought, “I'll just show Lindsay this and see if she likes it before we go start the show.”
And she did! We showed it to a few people at the show, and they thought it was good too. We were having a lot of fun with it, we liked the message that it was trying to convey, and we felt like it was just a great product for the Rose Gauntlet lineup. And here we are today.
As the designer, what was a non-negotiable that the game had to include?
Isaac: I really wanted to have the feeling that you are physically foraging something; you're moving around, you're grabbing different types of plants, and you’re utilizing those plants to actually cook something.
Some of the real-life foragers I watched would discuss how to utilize these foraged items as food sources. Others were talking about how indigenous people had foraged for their food supply as well. There was just so many different possibilities of what you can make with foraged items, and I really wanted to reflect that.
I also wanted to reflect the community driven aspect of foraging. I myself was inspired by these foragers and I wanted to offer that same kind of feeling to players with the board game as well. Also, the game’s tagline is, “Forage Food, Find Friends,” so the other piece here is highlighting the way that people come together around food.
How about as publishers? What was a non-negotiable that you knew had to be part of the game?
Isaac: My goal was to make those sources of design inspiration come through in the gameplay, the art, and in the way that we're shaping the game’s world. Lindsey and I are both huge fans of like Studio Ghibli and that style of art in the way that it invites you to want to jump into their worlds. So, we wanted that sense of coziness and feeling of invitation to this world of foraging.
So, that's kind of where the styling came together and our Illustrator Lyss Menold did an amazing job bringing that to life. From the publishing side, it was really more of aesthetic and making sure that we were sticking to the themes and making sure the design represented the themes and the aesthetic.
From your answers above, it sounds like the theme came first, but what was the process like of bringing this theme and the game mechanics together?
Isaac: Yea, the theme came first -- I just knew I wanted to make a game around foraging. I remember even when I shared the idea with Lindsey, that I wanted to make a game focused on this theme prior to even understanding where the design would take me.
And then literally one night at like 11:30 PM., all of the design answers started flooding into my brain and I was like, “Ah, crap, I have to get up right now and write all this out and design it!” I just grabbed a notebook and started sketching out how the mechanics would work of moving around the path board, how players would forage, how they would gain different recipes – all the things that became the core mechanics.
In regards to tying the mechanics to the theme, I think I've always been a designer that kind of thinks a little bit of theme first and then figures out ways in which mechanically that I can represent that. I knew I wanted it to be a more approachable product, so I was looking at different mechanics that have a history within our industry of being more approachable.
It started more as something I was calling a “move-and-write” but we ended up switching to more of a worker placement style of game, where you’re taking action tokens and determining how best to use them after triggering movement. But that was a long process. Like that took over a year to really refine and get to the point where we have mechanics that are already well known and easy to understand, and have them fit the actions I’m trying to represent.
The game loop is essentially foraging food, using that food to then create recipes, and then using those recipes to invite guests to your table and have them be part of your system or engine that you're building. So the worker placement and engine building piece definitely fit well, but there was still certain things that I wanted to represent in the game play that had to be cut, even though they were somewhat thematically working.
Blocking certain food types because other players had already taken them, the possibility that certain food types were poisonous – these ideas were fun and fit thematically, but they just kind of took away from the flow of the game and what players were having fun with.
There were some things that had to be abstracted and taken out for players to have a lot more fun. And there are certain things that we just had to shelve and put to the side because it will work better as an expansion. It still represents the theme well, but it added too much complication for the base game.
So there are lots of different things along the way that had to hit that chopping block in order to help the game be more streamlined, while still representing the core theme and mechanics that we wanted to invoke when players first opened the game.
Lindsey: Also, one of the cool things with the theme is how much Isaac's personality came through in the game. When we play Wild Gardens, especially playing this final version of the game, there's so many moments where I can sense Isaac's playfulness and his creativity. His unique style is all over this game and you can see just how much of him is poured into this, which as a business partner is one of the really cool things that came out of producing this game.
You mentioned earlier that certain ideas needed to be cut for the sake of game flow and what players were enjoying. What’s the process like of balancing that feedback with the original goal of how you want to represent the theme?
Isaac: I think once we understood that the game’s tagline of “Forage Food, Find Friends” is what we wanted to represent in the game, it helped solidify everything we're doing with the game’s system and gameplay is lending itself to that idea.
Also, we wanted to leave players with the feeling that they’re becoming better at the game throughout the play session. That resulted in adding the skill token mechanic where you're getting skill tokens, giving your actions more punch when taking those actions and placing those action tokens.
On your player board, we also kept cutting away things that were taking away from that feeling of progression. Like originally, players were gaining skills as cards, and those cards would then have even more unique abilities, but then you would lose that built progression because you had to choose which card to use.
So, it was a balance of making sure that we were still having a level of progression, but also still living within the theme of what we were trying to represent. That resulted in a lot of cutting away, trying something new, cutting away, trying something new, cutting away, trying something new, and then asking ourselves at the end of the day, “Are we still foraging food? Are we still finding friends?” Are those things still represented well? Do they still invoke the theme? The mechanics? Do they still fit together? Does the art still feel representative of the mechanics? Does everything still feel like it flows together and goes back to that original core theme and intention?
The answer we continuously found was yes, so we felt we were doing good. And then it's up to the playtesters. Are playthroughs going well? Do they enjoy this? From there, we try to find those things that aren't enjoyable and figure out different ways to make them enjoyable, that still represent the theme.
Lindsey: Yea and working with playtesters and understanding when a game is done or what it still needs, that's just something that comes with experience. You just get better with it over time. Understanding what feedback to take, what feedback not to take, what the playtesters are really trying to say, even if they're not specifically saying it, what's the thing that's frustrating them? That comes with years of experience working with playtesters.
From a business perspective, how do roles shift when one of you is so deeply absorbed with the design of a game?
Lindsey: It's a fun process honestly, and there's not a ton of downsides. We each have our own designs that we tend to take the lead on. So, one of the things that we'll do on the business side is say, “Ok, this is your design, so you take the lead on this. Work on it, spend your time on it, really focus on it, and I'll handle this stuff on the back end. And then let's meet up and let's talk.”
One of the really cool things that, because this is the first time that I've really gotten to see Isaac design a game from scratch all the way to the end, is just how fearless Isaac is with throwing away previous ideas and just being like, “This prototype is amazing, but we're starting over. I have a cool idea.” That's been a great experience, especially for me as a designer, not just as a business partner. Being like, “Oh yeah, you can just start over. Something's not working.” Or you can just try something new and it's okay.
So not only has this been an incredible experience to encourage him and see this game develop over the course of the year to something that I think is gonna be super, super special, but also just as one designer to another, seeing that caliber of work and being like, “Wow, like there is nothing sacred.” It’s so cool and such a fearless process.
So yeah, it's really exciting and I can't wait to see everyone's reaction to it. I also can't wait until the roles are reversed and Isaac's kicking my butt about getting some designs done…
Isaac: And just to add that aspect of running a business. There's a lot of aspects involved that are time intensive and crazy. There's so much brain power that ends up taking away from a person that's trying to design a product. Without Lindsay, I would not be able to be both a business head and a designer in a way that allows myself the time and the things that are necessary in order to be able to rework a process or rework a game.
She is just so fantastic at being able to give me that space and offer her assistance and being able to come in, even just to double check or reassure me when I feel like something's going completely wrong. I wouldn't be able to do this without her. She's fantastic throughout that entire process, and I'm so excited for the moment where I get to return that favor when she’s wearing the design shoes and I can go ahead and take on more of the business running aspects.
Lindsey: Yea, we have literal conversations where Isaac says, “I'm taking the design hat now.” And I'm like, “Okay, I'm gonna take that back later.” There are literally two hats that we just trade back and forth with the responsibilities that go with those.
Final Question: If you could forage any recipe in the game, what would it be and why?
Isaac: Ooh, now I wanna look through all of them.
Lindsey: That's not fair! I think mine is the Sea Lettuce Granola. I know it really well because it was one I added in. We had a chart of the different recipes and I was going through and making sure that they were all generally in North America, and Sea Lettuce Granola was one that I subbed in. For whatever reason it looked really good to me, and then the art made it look even better! So like I've never gotten to try seaweed granola, but I really want to now.
Isaac: Yeah, that one sounds delicious. Mine is definitely the Hickory Ice Cream because it's made out of hickory bark. I just want to know what that tastes like. It sounds like a really nutty, interesting flavor and I just never thought about the possibility of eating bark before working on this game. While researching all the different recipes and things that are possible, this was one that always stuck out to me.
Lindsey: Birch Shortbread would be really cool too. Like how do you eat birch tree bark?
Isaac: Right? Like, how does it even work? It was so cool to be able to research some of these things too, because you end up finding so many different blogs, so many different people that have added to the foraging community online. And just share their love for the hobby in such an interesting way. It's awesome what’s possible to make out of things that are just growing on the side of your sidewalk.
Lindsey: Yea, I think about our Japanese Honeysuckle card – that’s something me and my friends snacked on every day walking to school in the spring time. So that one particular card is a little tribute to my school days and what must have been a thousand pounds of nectar that we consumed over the course of our childhood.