Dan Letzring is the owner of Letiman Games. He lives in Rochester NY with his wife and 2 daughters. Letiman Games has published a handful of games including Groves, Dino Dude Ranch and its Hatchlings expansion, Dirigible Disaster, and Gadgeteers. Dan also had his wallet game Mint Julep published by Button Shy in 2017. He loves playing games and is extremely excited to work with one of his favorite designers, Scott Almes, for their next release: The Neverland Rescue.
The following interview is about Groves, a board game he co-designed with Steven Aramini.
Jason (GameGobble): Groves is a worker placement game that comes with a fascinating backstory. From the product description:
Idyllon was the crown jewel of Faerie Queen Nivarra’s kingdom… once upon a time. But after a great betrayal at the hands of Ancient Therha, this once great land has dissolved into formless void. While all of those who remember its beauty mourn this tremendous loss, you – the Guardians of the Four Winds – have vowed to restore Idyllon to its former glory.
Where did the initial idea come from, and how did game development unfold from there?
Dan: The initial game was a wild west town-builder. Portals were railroads, wraiths were outlaws, and all the buildings were typical old west style buildings. This was Steven and my inspiration for the initial creation. Since EVERY western themed game is a town-builder, I wanted something new and fresh. I was trying to think of an idea that was very interesting but under-represented thematically in board games.
At the same time, my wife was reading books with fae and I thought this was really interesting. I also liked the idea of the four seasons and working that type of imagery in. When I first pitched the idea to playtesters and other members of the team, they were very hesitant but once I explained the whole concept to them and we started really converting everything over, we all fell in love with the new theme and realized quickly it was far more interesting than the original wild west idea. Our graphic designer then wrote 6 pages of lore for the rulebook to further explore the world we built!
Jason: There is luck involved with the type of spirits (workers) drawn from the respective bags, but each player gets to make decisions that manipulate which spirits go into that drawing pool. Please share your thoughts on how you wanted this mechanism to affect gameplay.
Dan: We wanted it to feel like a deckbuilder. We wanted players to really have to focus on refining and culling. We then decided to really embrace this feel and added the summoning bonuses to the game (originally these bonuses were more focused on how you built your Groves). We also loved the concept of sending spirits to other players realms to put them into their bags. There is a really neat dynamic built around how the bags are formed and we felt like we approached bag building in a really interesting way that had never been done before.
Jason: For the most part, players impact each other through the decisions made within the community area. But you also introduced portals into the game, which allows a player to place spirits in other players’ realms. What was the reasoning behind this idea?
Dan: A few reasons – first, as previously mentioned, it allows you to also have a hand in affecting the other players bags. Also, if another player has a REALLY good Grove ability, it would be unfair if they were able to buy that before other players out of chance and then only they could utilize it. So another player using it (and only one player can play on it per round) would give that other player a chance to benefit from it equally while also preventing the owner from utilizing it too much. However, there is a balance in that, if I want to truly optimize your Groves’ usage, I will pair a matching sprit with that Grove to gain both benefits provided. That spirit I sent to your Grove now goes into YOUR bag, so you will have the opportunity to draw that ideal spirit later. So although I benefited from using your Grove, I may have helped you in later rounds as well.
Jason: How would you describe the kind of experience you wanted players to have after a game of Groves ends?
Dan: I want players to feel like:
1) Their decisions and optimization of their bags/engines had a direct affect on the end of the game.
2) That every decision had an impact and that the game was well-balanced.
3) That they couldn’t help but get immersed into the world of Idyllon thanks to the beautiful art by Nolan Nasser.
Jason: What is one thing you want gamers to know about Groves?
Dan: That this is a really interesting approach to the bag building and worker placement genre. The matching of spirits to the Groves and the summoning bonuses put a focus on the bag building that has not been approached before and really creates a fun and unique experience.