Designer Diary 6: Q&A with Evil Hat’s Fred Hicks (Part I)

Fred Hicks is co-president of Evil Hat Productions, the publisher of Race to Adventure! He’s also a really thoughtful and knowledgeable guy who shares his views on the gaming industry in his blog, Deadly Fredly. Fred offered to do this week’s Designer Diary in the form of a virtual Q&A session from the publisher’s perspective. We were thrilled to take him up on the chance:

Question: What made you decide to take a meeting at Origins 2011 to hear the Race to Adventure! pitch?

Fred Hicks: Chris Ruggiero and EndGame. Pure and simple. EndGame is an “anchor” store for us at Evil Hat, and Chris is a part of why EndGame is so fantastic. If he said something was worth our attention, it was worth our attention! So that was the foot in the door.

Q: So, you heard the pitch and then had follow-up meetings that brought in co-president Rob Donoghue. At that point, what was Evil Hat’s process in determining if it would sign and publish Race to Adventure?

Evil Hat co-president Fred Hicks

Fred: One of the things I look for in a game design is “stickiness”—how much does it occupy your mind once you’ve walked away from the play experience? Are you thinking about the stories implied by the play? Are you looking for ways to “hack” the game to squeeze out another few percentage points of awesome juice? Do expansions to it suggest themselves readily? That sort of thing. RtA had that kind of stickiness for Rob and I. Combine that with fortuitous timing—Evil Hat was fresh to the idea of expanding into non-RPG games—and a good fit with our existing catalog, and it all made sense.

Q: What did you like most about the RtA prototype/gameplay? What caught your eye or captured your attention?

Fred: I was most taken by RtA’s quick, family-friendly play. One of the great “curses” of working in the game industry is that you can find yourself without a lot of time to play games. So games which play quickly, where you can get several plays in during one evening, or where you can combine it with time to play other games, are particularly attractive to me right now. I know I can fit them in!

Q: What’s Evil Hat’s philosophy when it comes to game design? Are you hands-off, or do you like to get in there with the designers and develop mechanics and hash out problems?

Fred: Rob and I can’t see publishing anything we don’t truly care about. That’s right there in Evil Hat’s mission: “Evil Hat believes that passion makes the best games.” And when we care about a game, we can’t help but tinker with its guts a little. So yeah, we’re hands on, but never (hopefully) in a dictatorial way. Collaboration is key. The designers have to care about the game too, and *still* care about it by the time we get it to publication.

“Evil Hat believes that passion makes the best games.” -Fred Hicks

Q: Since Race to Adventure! will be your first board game, what will be your criteria for determining if RtA is a “success” for Evil Hat?

Fred: There are a lot of ways to find success. But when it comes down to brass tacks, you’ve got to look at the financials. If we can cover the costs of the first print run, and earn enough royalties to pay the designers a nice first check, I think we’ll be there. Depending on how smart we can play that, that could be within the first few hundred copies sold, but I suspect it’ll be a ways further out than that.

Q: You’ve had tremendous recent success with RPGs, especially The Dresden Files RPG. Where do board and card games fit into the Evil Hat equation?

Fred: Right now we’re looking at them as vehicles for extending the experience of our more popular games. That’s why “transmedia” is such a buzzy word right now: When you give people multiple different ways to experience a given world—whether that’s the Spirit of the Century universe or The Dresden Files—then you’re increasing the likelihood that they’ll spend more hours of their day “living” in that world in some way. Folks enjoying Jim Butcher’s novels can make that experience last by playing the RPG. And similarly, folks having fun in a Spirit of the Century campaign can continue the SotC experience with board and card games, and even fiction, set in that same universe. RPGs aren’t a fits-all-sizes thing, too. Sometimes folks don’t have the 2 or 4 or more hours to play an RPG, but they might have time for a 30-minute card game. It’s important to offer something for both of those slices of someone’s schedule.

Editor’s note: We were lucky to get Fred to answer a ton of questions, so we’re breaking this Q&A into two parts. Check back next Tuesday for Part II, which includes answers about playtesting, publishing, companion games, expansions, a Spirit of the Century novel and board game digital apps!

Fred Hicks is a dad, a gamer, and a game publisher. He runs Evil Hat Productions, and does freelance art direction and layout work for the occasional other game publisher. The rest of the time, though, he’s looking after his kids, and spending time with his wife. Life is good.