What’s in a name? While that question will bring up a range of responses – and stories behind them – from the tabletop game community, the one from North Star Games has special significance for its Co-Founder and President Dominic Crapuchettes. As Luke Warren, Public Relations Director and Head of Specialty Accounts at North Star Explained, the Dominic chose the name after using the North Star to return his boat to safety after losing power while captaining a salmon boat in Alaska. After returning to the dock, Dominic decided to pursue his dream of creating board games.
Since then, North Star Games has taken its inspiration from this experience to produce a range of hobby board games that are accessible to a mainstream audience such as the Evolution series as well as popular party games such as Wits & Wagers and Say Anything. The company became a sponsor of WashingCon through its work with Kathleen Donahue, the owner of Labyrinth Games and a fellow WashingCon co-sponsor. “We are always down at her store demoing games. And as we are a local company, it only made sense to sponsor the local con.”
Read our interview with Luke to learn more about North Star Game’s design philosophy, the development of questions for Wits & Wagers and Say Anything, and the company’s new releases for 2017.
WC: For people new to the hobby, can you tell us about the history of North Star Games? What drives the company and its designers to make tabletop games?
LW: Well, that’s really a great question. Our co-founder Dominic Crapuchettes was the captain of a salmon boat in Alaska (like you might have seen on reality TV, but before watching fishing boats was a form of entertainment) but since he was a kid he had dreamed of making board games. Well, one night while captaining said fishing boat, he lost power, took on water and had to guide the boat home by the North Star, hence the name of the company. He decided since he made it back alive, it was time to start trying to make his dreams a reality.
While in business school he met his future business partner in Satish Pillalamarri; they graduated in 2004 and have been going full blast since then. Dominic, also our head game designer and President, has a drive to bring the deeper game play of hobby games to a mainstream audience. That requires streamlining games so they have as few rules and exceptions as possible. “Find what’s fun, get rid of everything else,” is his philosophy. This philosophy has the added benefit of making hobby games more streamlined as well, so in a way we are bringing mainstream consumers’ need for simplicity to hobby games. The best of both worlds!
WC: What products will North Star release this year? Are there any releases you're excited about?
LW: The biggest release will be a blue Happy Salmon. It has 6 more color of cards so you can play 12 person Happy Salmon games. That is pure craziness right there. I have done it, so I know what I am talking about. Oh, and a sweet expansion to Wits & Wagers, called Vegas Wits & Wagers. More ways to bet on a bigger, cooler Vegas style rubber mat. For all you high rollers!
The second big release is our new, streamlined Evolution - same great game, same great art, just a smaller box, no excess components, and now $40. We have fixed a couple of problems, like the occasional lack of food tokens, and reduced the amount of table space you need for the game. The biggest change is to switch out the food bags for cool food shields that create a 3-D visual experience and makes it look like the animals are coming to the Watering Hole to feed. So it's a more immersive experience as well.
WC: How does the process for selecting user submitted questions for Say Anything and Wits & Wagers work? Are there any memorable questions that came out of this process?
LW: The process has several steps, but basically we put out an All Points Bulletin for submissions, and once we get the questions, we cull out a bunch that just will not work. The remaining lot then gets sent out to volunteers who rate the questions and answers on how fun and interesting they are, since that is always the main consideration behind everything we make. The highest-ranking questions are then playtested, edited, fact checked until we have the best ones.
Memorable questions? Well, the most memorable ones make it into the game! But as far memorable experiences based on these questions, at our big GenCon Wits & Wagers Game Show, we asked the question about how many “favorite things” are mentioned in the song, My Favorite Things from the Sound of Music. Decent question, not necessarily memorable. Except that many gaming geeks love musicals, so after the question, we gave everyone one minute to write down all the favorite things, and then to reveal the answer, made everyone sing the song. A room full of 70 people all singing My Favorite Things at the top of their lungs is pretty entertaining.
WC: Can you tell us about the team of artists behind the Evolution series? What inspirations did they draw from to produce the art for these games?
LW: Catherine Hamilton, the artist, knows Dominic from high school. Fortunately she is an international representative for Zeiss, has worked with the Audubon Society, and is a very well respected ornithology artist, doing much of her work in watercolor. So when Dominic approached her to do the art for the game in a realistic, but alternate history kind of way, it was almost second nature to her. That is why the animals in the game seem familiar but are not quite ones that have existed on Earth.
WC: How has working on the digital version of Evolution impacted the design of your tabletop games?
LW: It has definitely helped us to streamline game play even more than we already do, since when playing digital games asynchronously, every little decision point slows the game down. Too many delays while someone who was not the active player has to make a decision on something and the game becomes excruciatingly slow. So now in our table top design we try to cut out those interrupts.
WC: What are you looking forward to WashingCon 2017? What games and events will you be running at this year's con?
LW: It's a super fun show and being local makes it even better. Meeting local game enthusiasts who love our games, or introducing our games to new fans is awesome. We will be running an Evolution tournament, a Wits & Wagers Game Show and a Say Anything ‘after dark’ game. Lastly, a Happy Salmon festival, which if you have not played this 60 seconds of crazy game, WashingCon is the place to do it!
WashingCon would like to thank North Star Games and Luke for supporting our work and community.