Endeavor: Interview with Jarratt Gray & Carl de Visser

Most of this interview is from 2010. Jarratt and Carl’s game Endeavor was nominated for an Origins Award so I interviewed them. The plan was to post the interview on the old Gametime livejournal and help people hear about the game! Well, it’s too late to vote for them in the 2010 Origins awards… but it’s NOT too late to support the 2018 Kickstarter for the new edition of Endeavor!!

It’s a super-fancy new edition, with only small (but meaningful) adjustments to how the much-loved game actually plays. As I publish this, it’s way past its funding goal and knocking down loads of stretch goals. Get into it!

Jarratt Gray and Carl de Visser are friends of mine, and the designers of the beloved board game Endeavor. In 2010 I asked them a few questions. And right down the bottom there’s a special bonus 2018 question too! Here goes:

Tell us a bit about yourself apart from the game-related stuff.

2010 Jarratt said: I work in television, mostly as an editor but I take on other roles too. I like to read and am mostly a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, though I think my preferences run more to sci-fi than fantasy. I think that is true in TV and film too, but the a lot less fantasy stuff gets made than SF. I have 2 Siamese kittens, one lives up to the billing as a loud monster. Dragons are cool except when they are the final boss in the dungeon you are currently exploring. I like to cook, though cleaning is much less fun.

2010 Carl said: I work as a systems engineer for an IT company. I have two kids, aged in 4 and 6. Almost anything else is game related.

What is your earliest memory of a game giving you a really fun experience?

2010 Jarratt said: My earliest memories of games are all before I was ten, though exactly how old I couldn’t remember. Nintendo games like Parachute and Donkey Kong were fun, challenging and sometimes frustrating. Playing Go Home Stay Home with my friends or my cousins was something that was quite enjoyable. And the two board games that stand out from my youth are Polyconomy and Totopoly. The latter might have been a bit later, though I’m not sure, along with a wonderful game called Crossbows and Catapults which I absolutely loved.

One thing I remember vividly is creating or playing in worlds with things like lego and He-man. I used to use a matchbox and a lego mini and freeze it in the freezer. That would then become part of an eloborate Han Solo-esque storyline with my lego figures. At one point I used every lego block I owned to create a whole bunch of robots of varying sizes. Some of them transformed with other robots to make more robots or spaceships. My brother basically did the same thing and we would engage in these insane stories.

Around the same time I guess I discovered computer games through the Atari, the C64 and the Amstrad. At the time I was busy programming my own game sin basic. Sadly I never quite developed those skills into adulthood.

2010 Carl said: Two big experiences I remember are finding out about D&D, when I was about 9. A TV show (for those in New Zealand, it was Spot On) had a segment on it, and then I went all out to find a copy. I did find a shop with roleplaying games, but the only thing they had was Arduin Grimoire, perhaps the worst possible RPG for a child to get. It made no sense to me, but my friends and I somehow worked out a game to play from it. Then D&D proper was discovered.

Another one I remember was my older brother telling me about playing Elite at the school computer lab. I then bugged him with questions about it until I knew pretty much everything there was to know about the game before I ever saw it.

Before that the game played a great deal in the family was 500.

2010 Jarratt added in a later email: I remembered another early, perhaps formative gaming experience. I used to play a lot of cribbage with my dad, though we just called it by the shortened form, crib. I actually don’t remember the rules but it was one of the few times where Dad and I would do something together when I was young. More particularly something I could be competitive at. We would sometimes play things like Chess or maybe Backgammon but Crib was something he enjoyed so it was more enjoyable to play it if you know what I mean. Also we used to play it when we could go to a friends batch just out of Dunedin. There were other things to do but most of them I didn’t enjoy nearly as much (though reading was good). In the south of the South Island we actually call baches cribs, so we used to play crib at a crib. 😀

What was the moment when you knew that games were going to be a big part of your life?

2010 Jarratt said: You know I think games are a huge part of everyone’s life. They just don’t know it. Games serve as excellent tools during formative years. Sports (which are basically games) serves as outlets for people as the grow older. I’m a huge NFL fan, but part of the reason is that it is a complex game of tactics and strategy. It is basically a board game where the variables are actual people.

So I’m not really sure how to answer the question. I guess it is a thing I never thought about. Games, sports, play, they were always there. I have certainly drifted in and out of the different aspects of the gaming hobby. I traded board games for miniatures war games for a long time, and then war games with collectable card games. I started roleplaying when I was 11 I think but when I moved to Wellington at 13 I was still interested but never did any seriously until I was 16 or so. And while I played computer games when I was young I drifted away from them at various times, though now I own far too many consoles.

2010 Carl said: The world creation stuff from RPGs was the most attractive part of gaming to me when I was younger. I couldn’t imagine anything better at the time. Due to time limitations, I’ve become interested in the very small rule based worlds of Euro-games, but part of me still wants to make an utterly complete and detailed universe (or universes) of my own.

How did you meet and start playing and designing games together?

2010 Jarratt said: Joss Whedon. Isn’t he the answer to all questions. No seriously Carl and his partner borrowed Buffy tapes from my partner and said they had a games night. We played a lot of Settlers and I liked a bunch of other stuff too. I was pretty much hooked.

I actually used to make games when I was younger (I had this brilliant wrestling RPG that me and my brother loved) and I wanted to try and make something myself. I brought along a few prototypes every now and then. Tried a few prototypes of Carl’s as well. Then we started having lunch together 2-3 times a week and playing Zertz. After that we started chatting about games we had designed, ideas we were working on, games that were coming out, and eventually we decided to try and work on a game together.

2010 Carl said: Once we started working together, it clicked amazingly well. Working with Jarratt is a very good way to make progress designing games. We have both ended up with a lot of other commitments that have interrupted working together, but I am trying to free up as much spare time as possible to work on more games with Jarratt.

As designers, Endeavor is your break-through game. Could you describe it for us briefly? What other games is it like?

2010 Jarratt said: Players take the roles of European Colonial Powers during the 18th century. Through various actions they open up new regions across the world to trade, colonize new areas and battle for control of the various trade ports across the world. It is a fast action strategic boardgame.

We both wanted to create a development style game, so Endeavor has routes in games like Civilization and basically anything else development like. We were looking to make a fast paced shorter in length game while still offering depth of strategy. I would say the game it is most like is Puerto Rico, and certainly while the buildings are used differently in Endeavor they share a similar flavour. I think the two game do play differently but share a similar space in the market in terms of length to depth.

Where I think Endeavor stands alone is that each player builds there own action set as the game progresses. There are a lot of action point games out there, many where you have X action points and use them all at once. In these games everyone chooses from the same set of actions each turn. In Endeavor each player builds up, as the game progresses the set of actions that they can use. I think this is pretty unique to Endeavor, and while Endeavor incorporates a lot of core mechanics like area control, connections and population cycles that other games have introduced in the past, it uses the variable action mechanic to bring the whole together in what is hopefully a fresh and unique way.

I also feel that ultimately because of the way Endeavor unfolds it is a fairly easy game to teach and learn, even for those that don’t play a lot of games.

What was the early concept of Endeavor? How did it rise above the other games you were working on to become the one to pitch?

2010 Jarratt said: You know we weren’t really working on any other games together, so as such most other personal projects got pushed to the back burner. So Endeavor never really rose above the others to become the pitch. However through working on it there was definitely a hope that we could publish it, and as things developed there was a moment when we were ready to put our names to it if you would.

The early concept however was not there. Early Endeavor was unwieldy in a way that is difficult to describe. Aside from being too long and lacking in balance the real issue was that we were asking our players to do too much at the start of the game. In Endeavor today the start game decisions are incredibly narrow, and as such the first 2-3 turns slowly bring the players up to speed with what they are doing. In the original version, the core idea of variable actions was still there but we were asking players to build there action set right from the beginning. Sure you could add to it later, but what you started with was pretty important. But good things came out of that original version including the population management which at the time was just a quick add on. Sure it became different and streamlined but it was one of things that we felt was really interesting and it is one of the core features of Endeavor today.

To be honest it took us both quite a while after that first failed playtest (of what we thought at the time as a really awesome game) to get the enthusiasm to start again, and to make wholesale changes. I think that would be one of the lessons we learned though. Sometimes you need to strip stuff back to core mechanics, figure out what works and what is interesting and then discard stuff which you thought was great but probably didn’t play well. Sometimes the discarding is hard. But it is easier with 2 I think, one can bully the other into dropping something. 😀

Oddly I find that had Endeavor developed in a different way from that initial game it would have become something like Antiquity, which is a game I quite enjoy, and has a lot more surface complication than Endeavor. Obviously I’m glad we went the route that we did, but I find it fascinating that an initial concept can go in different directions to create quite different games.

What aspects of Endeavor are you most happy about?

2010 Jarratt said: You know I’m pretty happy with the whole product. The production values are fantastic and Josh did a great job with the artwork. The game plays smoothly. There are always going to be a few things here and there that with a larger testing group you can look back and wonder if maybe they could have been tweaked differently. But ultimately it still plays how we wanted, and I know I certainly enjoy playing it.

2010 Carl said: The final product is very nice indeed, Josh did an outstanding job, based on Jarratt’s already pretty amazing graphic design of the prototype.

I am also very glad we achieved all of our initial design goals. In fact, whenever I see something that might be considred a weakness in the game, it is always something that was outside of our initial list of what we wanted for the game.

I am also very pleased with the feedback from the gaming community. We have some raving fans of the game out there, and when people have had negative opinions about it, for the most part their comments have been intelligent and well considered.

That’s the end of the 2010 interview! BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! FLASH FORWARD TO THE DISTANT FUTURE OF 2018!

Games have come a long way since 2009. How does Endeavor: Age of Sail fit into the tabletop gaming world of 2018?”

2018 Jarratt said: Games have gotten a lot more complex, but also a lot smarter. There are a lot more mechanics and concepts to draw from now. Sometimes that means you’ll get a kitchen sink kind of game where everything has been thrown at it, but the best games seamlessly find a balance between simplicity and and depth. It’s just as important now as it has ever been that as game designers we are in the business of delivering fun for a group of people. I think one of the things Endeavor Age of Sail still does really well is that it teaches you the game as you play and then ramps into much more complex and strategic game in it’s final moments. There is a lot of depth and challenge in the gameplay, but at the same time you can easily enjoy playing it with your friends who just want to have some fun.

One of the major additions to Endeavor Age of Sail are the Exploits. When Carl and I first conceived Endeavor we did a lot of research into the time period we choose, but in our attempt to find a balance between simplicity and depth we slowly lost a lot of the thematic flavour of the time period. The Exploits bring the theme back in a big way, touching on all sorts of events or developments of the time. Recapturing that theme and exploring that history again has been a truly memorable part of developing Endeavor Age of Sail. The themes in Endeavor Age of Sail ask the players to question the impact of this history, while also hopefully telling them a story of it.

Thanks Jarratt and Carl for answering some questions!

Everyone else: go check out the Kickstarter to get the latest news on the game!

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