Each year, the NYU Game Center commissions new work from four artists for No Quarter, an exhibition of games. The 2019 No Quarter artists were Karina Popp, Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan, Michael Brough, and Xalavier Nelson Jr.. No Quarter Curator Charles Pratt briefly interviewed each of the artists about their process of making games for No Quarter. You can read all of the interviews here.
Michael Brough is a forest goblin rainbow wizard. He likes to dance and play and climb and grow. He is known for his eclectic oeuvre of games especially Cinco Paus and the IGF-nominated VESPER.5, Corrypt, 868-HACK, Imbroglio and (with Andi McClure) BECOME A GREAT ARTIST IN JUST 10 SECONDS.
For No Quarter 2019, Michael made Quinzena, a recently rediscovered 15th-century card game involving secret bidding.
Charles Pratt, No Quarter Curator: What were you thinking about when you first started designing your game? What was your approach to designing for No Quarter in terms of the event and the audience?
Michael Brough: In the initial brief you said to keep the people observing in mind because there are a lot more people at the event than who is playing at any one time. I thought about spectator sports and asked myself what makes a game appealing to watch: The answer I came up with is the game should not be equally interesting at any given moment. Imagine a game where the action is at full intensity all the time: this could be fun for the players (until they get tired and take a break) but the audience will lose focus because there’s no shape to it. Popular games for spectators have moments of intense action interspersed with quieter times and it’s very clear which is which so the audience knows when to clap and cheer and when to go fetch a drink. So I designed a game that has clear moments of dramatic revelation in between periods where the players might be thinking deeply about their decisions but there isn’t as much to see from the outside. In the end, the game takes on its own direction and the design isn’t completely spectator-focused because I didn’t have spectators for playtesting, but that was the seed.
I also spent a while getting fairly nice looking pieces to play with, like a wooden bowl filled with gemstones instead of just a pile of plastic discs, so that the game would have a striking presentation at the event. Treating it as a physical art piece as well as a game design.
Were there any challenges that you ran into that you didn’t expect during your game’s development? Could you describe some of the practical considerations that were part of your process?
To make a boardgame I had to produce physical pieces. The cards weren’t so challenging because a lot of games use cards and so there are a lot of companies that print them. But the bid tokens are not a standard game piece so I made them myself. The main challenge was to get them regular enough that you can’t easily distinguish them from the back, otherwise if for example, you can remember “my opponent’s 7 is the piece with a notch in the corner” the game breaks down quite a bit. I found someone with a machine saw to cut wooden pieces and then I sanded and spray-painted them and painted numbers with nail polish. This all took longer than expected, and it rained on a few days when I had been planning to do painting outside, so they were only finished a couple of days before No Quarter. In the end, they’re not perfect and if someone examines them closely they might be able to recognise them, they’re certainly not tournament quality, but they’re good enough that this wasn’t a problem for the show.
How do you feel like your No Quarter connects to your other work?
It’s the first boardgame I’ve designed, after making a lot of videogames that take inspiration from boardgames. It’s a different genre but I think it definitely has the feeling of being one of my games, like the same creative voice is coming through, but really people can make their own judgments about that. It’s for two players and I’ve made a lot of two-player videogames so that’s familiar, testing it with my partner felt a bit like when I was making Kompendium. I don’t usually make games for more than two because then it’s more difficult to arrange people to test with, maybe that will change.