December 5, 2007
In this installment of InsideGMT, we interview Conquest of Paradise designer Kevin McPartland.

Thanks for sparing us a bit of your time, Kevin. Let's begin with how you got your start designing games.
I started designing wargames before I started playing them! As a kid we played chess, Risk, Stratego, Battleship and the like, and I thought, "Wouldn't it be neat to play a game that's about modern combat?" So I made one, with a square grid map and cardboard counters depicting tanks, aircraft carriers and jet planes. Soon after that, I answered an ad in Boy's Life magazine, sending in $6 for a subscription to some magazine called Strategy and Tactics.
How did you and Conquest of Paradise end up at GMT?

I had been playing the occasional GMT game all along, and was an early supporter of the P500 system. My design for Conquest of Paradise had just been dropped by Phalanx games (they were quite polite and apologetic when they cancelled my contract) when I stopped at the GMT booth at a convention to pick up my pre-ordered copy of Sword of Rome. I asked the fellow handing me my SoR box who I might ask about getting my game design on the GMT P500 list. The fellow was quite nosy, asking details about the game. It turned out, he was Andy Lewis, the exact person I needed to talk with! One playing of my prototype later, and CoP was headed for publication.

How do you fit design work into your “real-life” schedule?

With a shoe-horn. Ideas come to me in the middle of work, and I jot down notes while I should be working. I make up prototype maps and counters when I should spending time with my family. And most of my gaming time is filled with playtests of my own designs.

Do you have any hobbies outside of gaming?

I play soccer twice a week (keeps me in shape, too!) and get in a few ski trips every winter. Reading has always been a passion- not just history, but almost always non-fiction. Watching TV and following sports are two of the things that have been largely abandoned to make room for more important things.

What are some of the designer gifts/attributes that you see as important to being able to create a good game?

A designer first needs the gift of seeing the big picture: imagining what does not yet exist, but what can be. Then, he must be able to marshal the myriad of details towards creating that big picture. And then he must have the stamina to see the project to completion.

Do you have a favorite of your designs? If so, what is it about that design that makes it stand out?

Well, I've only had two games published so far: Conquest of Paradise, andTahiti, published by 3W back in 1994. Each game was my favorite at the time: I designed it to do everything I want in a game, exactly as I think best. My tastes have changed, so the games are somewhat different.

Same question for games you didn’t design. What are a few of your favorites?

Kingmaker, some say the first card-driven game. Civilization, with the whole concept of building an empire from scratch and leading it to dominance. Settlers of Catan, introducing the who euro thing: simple, elegant mechanics with a short playing time; abstract, but it still simulates something.

Playtesters for Conquest of Paradise have noted that the game appeals to both Eurogamers and wargamers. Specifically, which aspects or mechanics in the game will appeal to each group?
The game seems to change its character to suit the style of the group playing it. This was quite a surprise to me! Eurogamers focus on exploring and empire building, buying cards to get the best cultural improvements; they end up with a quick-paying game with diplomacy and limited confrontation. Wargamers focus on building the best combined-arms expeditions, attacking their opponents at the optimum place and time; they buy cards to increase the effectiveness of their warriors. They end up with a longer game of alliances and confrontation. Of course, you can sometimes have problems when you mix the two styles of gamers together! 
Many multi-player games lose much of their appeal in the two-player version. Do you believe the 2-player version of CoP is fun and challenging? How does it differ from the 3-5 player versions?  
The 2-player version is certainly a different game. Diplomacy is no longer a consideration- you’ve only got one opponent, and he’s right there in the hex next to you. That makes it a more confrontational game, more like a wargame no matter who’s playing. Luck becomes a larger factor; you must make the most of what you find, with no help from other players. It’s a quick-playing game that is different every time you play it, since the board changes every time. I know some people who like the 2-player game better, and some who like multi-player games better.
We hear GMT talk a lot about the value of development TEAMS to the process of creating and producing great games. What is your perspective on such teams? How do you work with your team, and what benefits and/or frustrations do you find there?
I knew that CoP would have a great graphic arts team behind it, and that's exactly how things turned out. Working with Leland was as great as I hoped it would be: I sent in my playtest graphics, described what I was looking for, and got back a professional, polished product. Sometimes Leland followed my prototype closely, and sometimes he came up with something completely off the wall, but the graphics always support the design vision. Same with the package that Rodger put together. And having the GMT label on my game will lead the marketing: everyone will know that the game is top quality.

What about this whole “P500 list” process? It seems like GMT’s approach is a great deal for customers but has the potential to be a pain in the nether regions for designers who have to wait for their designs to be published. What’s your perspective on P500?

It was a pain! It took nearly three years of constant promoting to get my design through the process! But I am certain that the game would not have been published any other way: it had already been rejected or dropped by other publishers. There is no better system for getting a game on an obscure subject by an obscure designer published.
Can you give away any secrets about games you’re working on that aren’t on the P500 list yet?

I"m pretty far along designing a second sequel to Tahiti, set in Hawaii this time, tentatively called Kamehameha. Then, I'd like to do another design using at least some of the systems from CoP, but that is difficult because of the unique situation simulated in the game. But maybe something set in the Viking world, or something on the discovery of the New World, or even a science fiction theme. And then there's a pure euro design that I'm rather enamored with. But there's no saying who would be willing to publish any of these designs!

Do you get time to play games outside of the design process? Where/when do you get to play?

There are a few gaming clubs in the area that I will occasionally drop in on, and I've got a good friend to play with face-to-face (Commands & Colors: Ancients is a favorite of ours). The one game group that I regularly attend is a game designer's group; so in general, I'm far more likely to play somebody's design prototype than any published game!

Thanks very much for your time. Anything else you’d like to say to all those folks who buy and enjoy your games?

You folks must know that you're why we do this. I love to hear any kind of feedback. Don't hesitate to drop me an e-mail or post on my game's topic on Consimworld with any comments, questions, praise- or even criticism.
Thanks Kevin!

Inside GMT Archives - November 2007