Saturday, March 19, 2016

Interview with Nat Levan, designer of the game New Bedford

Nat got back to me this week, and I've been busy and had headache issues. Comments post interview by me will be in italics.

1. Can you give us an overview of New Bedford, for those unaware of the game?

New Bedford is a game about the development of the town of New Bedford in the 18th century alongside the growth of the whaling industry. Part of the game is sending workers into town to collect resources and build more buildings, which gives players even more powerful actions to take and earns points. At the same time, you’re sending out ships to catch whales for points, while trying to make enough money to pay your crew when the ships return. As you catch whales, you see fewer and fewer, representing the historical effects of over-hunting.

2. Tell us about the disclaimer you and the publisher put in the campaign.

    When we first made the video for the campaign, we made sure to explicitly state that we don’t condone or support whaling, even though we think the history is really interesting.

    It’s really there so that if you are quickly reading through, you know that we aren’t ignoring the issue of modern whaling, but that the game isn’t about it either. I don’t think the backers needed that statement to know we don’t promote whaling, and I don’t think including it was what convinced anyone to support us. That wasn’t the intent. More than anything, I think it shows that we considered all aspects of the subject, not just the ones that were convenient or easy, in order to make the best game possible.

And a fair number of people ignored the disclaimer, and posted on BGG in rage.
3. Describe some of the reaction, and how that made you and Dice Hate Me Games feel.

    Overall, we heard very few complaints about the game. I don’t remember any negative comments on the Kickstarter campaign itself. A few people said they were interested but wouldn’t buy it because they didn’t think they’d be able to get it to the table due to the theme. It’s impossible to know the overall impact from people who quietly decided it wasn’t for them.

We did get a few comments on BoardGameGeek online about how whaling is a horrible idea for a game. I definitely tried to engage people to both understand and (hopefully) educate. When I was able to have a conversation with someone, I didn’t find any outrage. There were lots of people who felt like making it a game makes light of the subject, and people who didn’t think it was appropriate to have fun while pretending to participate in such violence. I don’t agree with those positions, but I understand why they feel that way. So that experience actually helped me to talk more intelligently about the game and reach people I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to talk to.

The worst response to get is when someone rejects the game without really looking at it. It feels like people are calling you a horrible person for even having an idea, and you don’t have a chance to try and change their mind. But at the same time, these are the responses you have to worry the least about, because there’s nothing you can or could do.

I think I may have seen more of the reaction than Nat, as I subscribed to the boards that ended up with the most dismissive comments. I wonder how many consider the violence in RPGs they play in the same light, or do they not equate in their minds. Also, I'm of course reminded of the Sad/Rabid Puppies campaigns, and their dismissive, name-calling opponents. Nat may also be trying to be diplomatic as not to alienate future game purchasers.
4. What do you feel is at the root of the vitriol?

The answer to your question is that I really don’t know. The people who engaged had very understandable reasons behind their opinions, even when we disagreed. But the people who didn’t engage? I think anger is often a defense mechanism. I don’t know if people feel like the game is criticizing them, or trying to attack them, or exclude them. And certainly none of those feelings were intended. It’s just me trying to share a subject I thought was interesting in a way I find enjoyable.

5. Any games you have in development that you would like to tell us about?

    Well, I’ve just announced my next published game, Time Management which is also coming from Dice Hate Me/Greater Than Games, which will be on Kickstarter April 1st. Later this year, I have a game with the Game of the Month Club from Buttonshy Games [], no spoilers. And I’m going to be at Unpub 6 in April [ ] testing a game called One Card Wonder and several other designs.

6. Did the Nantucket museum get back to you/DHMG?

We actually had contact with several groups. The New Bedford Whaling Museum is the first group we tried to contact, because we figured they would at least be interested in the project if not the product and that it might be a good relationship. But to my knowledge, we never heard anything through formal or informal channels. It would have been neat to partner with the museum.

We were also contacted by some people connected to the Nantucket Whaling Museum. I don’t know if they had any official authority with the museum, but they were interested in at least doing an informal game night at the museum/library there on Nantucket, which was neat to see.

Besides the museums, we did get in touch with the town about using the town seal, which would have made awesome art for the game, but apparently that has legal restrictions that make it impossible. And I did a brief interview with the local newspaper, a little bit about the game, and a little bit about the hobby in general. It was neat to see the interest that the story generated locally.

Pity the NBWM doesn't want to engage people more broadly. Hopefully the Nantucket one does something on occasion.

Again, thanks to Nat Levan for his time. I was one of the backers of the game, and seeing the reaction on BGG surprised me greatly, one of the reasons I'm trying to do this blog.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


I'm trying to work up my interview for Kyle Gabhart about his game Arctic Scavengers. I haven't heard back yet from Mr. Nat Levan, but will send him a query about that shortly. Fell free to suggest any questions you may have for either.