At the Office - Game Design with Ben Stoll

By Christina Sims

In this week's Cryptozoic blog, I interview Ben Stoll, game designer for Cryptozoic board games and card games! He gives us some insight into his creative process and his fears of the Illuminati. Read on!

Name: Ben Stoll
Title: Game Designer
Preferred Title: Super Great Master Game Designer

How long have you been designing games for?

Professionally, a little over three years. I've designed games before that on my own for fun. I was also a play tester. The first game I mocked up on my own was a tower defense-style deck building game.

I helped my dad design some casual board games. Other than that, I was mostly playing in tournaments or writing for the gaming community. I've also been playing in hobby tournaments for a long time.

What's a day in the life of Ben Stoll like?

There are usually at least two or three different games I'm working on at the same time. I'll come in, get my breakfast and coffee, and sit down with everyone and get everything organized …

(Kevin, in the background) And stare at the screen for about an hour…

Kyle will come around and hit me in the back of the head, and then I actually get it together (laughs). The main thing I do every day is work on something like this excel spreadsheet, which will turn into something magical later. I'll work on it, have theory crafting conversations, get together with the other designers and developers and hash out what's wrong with the system, what's right with it, things that need to be fixed, things that can be improved on. It's mainly three things: conversation, playing the games themselves, and sitting at the computer developing the game.

What's your creative process like?

For me, the way my creative process works is that I start with something preexisting, and I evaluate what I like and what I don't like about it. Is there room for a major improvement? Take Settlers of Catan as an example; they do something that few other board games do and put investment from other players into each turn. So instead of waiting for a turn to come back around to me, I actually care what happens on the other players turn. It's amazing because almost no other game has replicated that with any sort of effectiveness. So I'll take something that works well and marry it into other concepts. I'm good at picking apart what is working and not working from existing stuff, then building on it.

Every once in a while I'll have a good idea that just pops out of thin air, but I excel at improving upon great ideas.

What games have you worked on?

The DC Comics Deck-Building Game and The Big Bang Theory Party Game, with another board game I worked on coming out soon too. On the TCG side of things, I've lead designed Crown of the Heavens and War of the Ancients. I've been working on the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game since War of the Elements.

What aspects of each creative process do you enjoy from creating a board game versus creating a TCG?

There's a lot to keep track of in a board game set. If you change one piece, the whole can be affected. The parameters in a TCG set can be simpler. Working on a TCG feels like it's less taxing from an innovative point of view. With a board game there are a lot of different pieces from an engine that hasn't been fully developed yet, so I feel a bit less in control.

For example, in a TCG, if a card is too powerful, you can tone it down a bit without drastically altering the entire set. In a board game, even changing the way you move around the board or altering the die roll can drastically change the way a game is played or balanced, correct?

That's exactly right. When I'm working on a TCG, the paradigm has already been built. I know what it is. The guidelines are there. With a board game, you have to build everything yourself. That's more Matt Hyra's specialty.

What do you do for fun?

I play video games, read and meditate, I exercise, but not as much lately. I play more board games. I like to kick it at the occasional house party.

(Dan Clark) Try to figure out what the illuminati are up to…

I try to figure out exactly how the illuminati are controlling us.

Thanks for talking with us today Ben! And for warning us of the dangers of the illuminati!

-Christina