An Interview with Christian Lemay & Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance
Let’s start with you all introducing yourselves to our readers.
Oh God, I’m never quite sure how to answer these kinds of questions… It always feels like I’m suddenly on a date with someone, and I just don’t know what kind of answer they’re expecting. I mean, I’m a pretty normal kind of bloke, I think. I’m 29 years-old, I live in Montreal, I’m currently working for a board game distributor/editor called FoxMind, I love games, music, reading, movies, beer, my girlfriend (no, honey, I didn’t say that just because I knew you’d be reading, I promise), and, you know, just being alive, in general.
I am a very normal guy...
Father of 2 kids. Former literature teacher. Got a master degree in… poetry!
I live in Montreal. I play Ultimate Frisbee at a “not so bad” level, for my age. I always have a Frisbee with me ;)
I founded Scorpion Masqué in 2006 because I dreamed to to get a living out of board games... It is my full time job since 2008!
As a gamer, I enjoy every type of games: from silly party games (Tumblin Dice, Time’s up, Jungle Speed) to big heavy thinking euro style games. Mac Gerdts and Vlaada Chvatil are among my favorite designers.
Thomas, tell us a bit about your design history. What started you down this path of designing games?
I’ve always liked to create stuff, for as long as I can remember. Started with Lego, as many others, then drawing, and music. Music was important to me for a long time, but I was not good enough in the end to build a career around it, in my opinion. I’ve always loved games, though I must say that creating games came much later. I had the idea to create video games at one point, like probably half the men of my generation, but wasn’t fond of the technical aspect of it. For the record, when I went to study music, I started in mixed composition (electronic & instrumental), but didn’t like the electronic side and finished my bachelor’s in instrumental only. So I guess it’s not surprising that I ended up on the analog side of things in boardgaming as well.
Now, in regards to why I left music for board games, I guess a big part of it is the social aspect. Music composition is a relatively solitary affair, while board game creation is very much a collaborative thing, even if it ends up being just one name on the box. We always talk about the individuals (Cathala, Lang, Rosenberg…), but once you start creating games you realize how much having a good testing ecosystem matters. Having access to a dedicated group of thoughtful testers (multiple groups, even better) makes all the difference in the world, and it’s something I’m still very much struggling with. Not the thoughtful part, the dedicated part, mind you. At some point I think being a good designer is mostly two things: having great testers, and knowing how to interpret and process their feelings into design decisions. The other reason why I prefer boardgaming over music (as a creator) is that you don’t really feel the weight of the past, only the promises of the future. There’s no Bach or Beethoven in gaming, not really. As a “science”, as an institution, gaming is still relatively new. There’s still so much to do, it’s quite exciting.
Christian, tell us a bit about Le Scorpion Masqué
Scorpion Masqué (French for Masked Scorpion) is a French Canadian publisher based in Montréal. For a long time, it was a small business, but things speeded up since 2014 (sales got multiplied by 5 in 3 years…). We are now full time 3 employees and maybe more next year.
I have 3 criterias when I choose a game: simplicity, originality and fun. The game must also be accessible to everyone and it must bring something new. I need creativity in my life. When I read a book or watch a movie, I want to be surprised.
Scorpion Masqué publishes quickly got know, at least on the French speaking market, for its party games. I see games as bridges that can bring people together. You can read the manifesto I wrote when I founded the company. I am very happy to see that 11 years after, I still agree with what I wrote!
We publish games from well known designers such as Antoine Bauza (Monster Chase), Bruno Cathala + Ludovic Maublanc (Think Again) and Roberto Fraga (Me Want Cookies) as well as designers at their first games, such as Thomas for Decrypto.
Christian, what exactly is Decrypto?
Decrypto is a board game… ;)
A communication game.
You are part of an Encryptor team. Your mission: transmit secret codes to your teammates without letting the opposing team intercept them.
Decrypto is part of what I would call the “scrambled communication” type of game. (That’s directly translated from French, “communication brouillée”).
When you communicate with your teammates, you want to give enough information, to make sure they understand you. Because if you fail to communicate twice in the game, you loose.
The more easy the clues you give to your teammates when you communicate, the more information you give to your opponents, and make things easier for them to intercept your secret codes. If your opponents can intercept your code twice, they win!
Here is a more detailed description I wrote on BGG. Reacting to a review where people did not understand the game idea.
There are 2 teams.
Your goal: transmit secrets 3-digit codes (eg.: 2-3-4) to your team, without the opposing team intercepting the code.
Let's say you play with me, in my team.
You are the "encryptor" for the first round. You draw a card that says 2-3-4. You goal is to make sure I say "2-3-4" (we don't see you code card).
So you'll prepare clues.
Your clues will refer to OUR 4 secret Keywords: 1- Horn; 2- Perfume; 3- Weekend; 4- Speed.
The opposing team does not see those words, but you have to understand that they WON'T CHANGE for the WHOLE GAME.
Your clues might be:
- Patrick Suskind (well known author of the Perfume Novel)
- Two days (because a weekend is 2 days...!)
- Keanu Reeves (well known for the Speed movie
After you read those clues, I should be able to answer 2-3-4.
But now, the opposing team knows that our secret Keyword #3 is related to "Two days". That our keyword #4 is related to Keanu Reeves...
I am the encryptor. I draw a new secret code card. Let's say 4-3-1.
I prepare my clues.
From now on, when I or you will read our clues, the opposing team will have the first try to guess what is the secret code.
So if my clue for "3" is Sunday, they'll link it for sure to your previous clue for the same number, "Two days". They'll understand that this is #3, despite the fact they still don't know what exactly is our keyword #3.
If they can intercept the whole code this way (the 3 digits in the right order), they get a white token. Two white tokens and they win the game.
So this is why your clues must not be too obvious. Remember, our keyword won't change for the whole game!
On the opposite, if your clues are too vague and we don't give you the right code after you read your clues, we get a black token. With 2 of those, we loose.
So this is why your clues must be "clear" enough.
The question you ask yourself when you prepare your clues is always "How far can I go to make sure my team understands, but not my opponents?"...
Thomas, let’s find out a bit more about the designing process of Decrypto. What led you to create a puzzle/word game?
The idea came partly from hearing my grandmother talk about her games of Bridge, in which partners would send “codes” to each other about the cards they have in their hands. I wanted to create a game about sending codes to your teammates, but running the risk of being intercepted by the enemy. Early ideas were much more tied to the war theme, there were to be attacks, movements of troops, that sort of thing. But then the idea came to tie code decryption to words, and it sorts of all came together rather quickly after that.
Christian as a publisher, what drew you to Decrypto? Especially at a time when the field for puzzle/word games is really competitive.
In fact, I first declined to do Decrypto, because of the popularity of another very good game with words I don’t need to name ;)
But Thomas insisted, so we played and the reactions from playtesters where so strong that I decided to do it anyways. When you think about it, there is not only 1 successful worker placement game on the market…
As a publisher, I have to gauge the desire of the playtesters to play the game again. This is the most important thing. You can see the game have an impact on them when they continue to talk about it long after the game is finished.
Fun story… I remember when I first explained the rules to my girlfriend. She was in the shower. I was not even sure she was listening. When I finished, she quickly opened the door and said “I want to play!”
I also remember two important store owners in Québec who tested the (awful?) prototype. Thomas, please, forgive me! ;)
The day after, one of them told me she dreamed and the other one had already found how he would pitch it to its client… These are reactions you don’t see often.
Decrypto is an intense game. You have to be clever, tricky and creative. Decrypto brings something new in a very old genre.
I want to ask about a component that will surely give the game a unique table presence -- the physical decrypter with the red window. At what point in the design did you work this in?
The red windows came from reducing the box size.
At first, the game was supposed to be $25 US retail. But our distributors convinced us that selling it 20$ would make a huge difference. So we had to cut the production price. So we cut the number of cards, without loosing any gameplay material...!!! It was important to keep the same value for the customer.
At first, each card had 2 words. Now, there are 4 words. And we wanted to avoid people seeing too many words (despite it is not really a big problem) when manipulating the cards to put them in the screens.
Manuel, our Creative director, came with this old "trick" we all saw in many games when we were young. If you try hard, you can read the words without the red screen. But you won't read them accidentally.
Moreover, all of this worked perfectly with our "old school" theme!
Who exactly is Decrypto for? Is it for people who like word games and excel at them, or do you think that Decrypto is going to appeal to a broader swath of players, maybe those who don’t excel at word games but may love figuring out puzzles.
Of course, fans of word games will like Decrypto.
What I observed in the 300 (?!) playtests I conducted is that this is the word game that “gamers”, more focused on strategy, will appreciate the most. There is a second degree in Decrypto that you don’t find in other word games. As I mentioned, you have to be tricky. With time, you also develop some kind of strategies.
I think Decrypto was the most played game at the 2017 Gathering of Friends, or at least the most played prototype. After a few days, I did not have to ask newcomers if they want to play (because they were told by their friend to try it!) or to explain the game… because people played it many times and could explain it.
Decrypto will be available everywhere on March 1, 2018. Pre-order your copy today!