An Interview With Avignon Creator: John du Bois

Hey everyone, hope you’ve all had a wonderful week. I know I certainly have. This week, I will be running what will be my last interview. I won’t go into detail on that here, but will likely put out a quick mid-week post going into more detail about it. Instead, let’s have a nice conversation with Avignon designer, John du Bois. Let’s jump on in!

Page:  Hey there, to start off, can you tell me a little about yourself?
John: I’m a speech pathologist who got into hobby board games because my wife would play those with me and not Dungeons and Dragons 😉 My bread and butter when playing games is games that take a half hour or less – 7 Wonders, Takenoko, and Coup are probably our favorites, and my design preferences also tend toward a mix of luck and strategy (although Avignon has more of the latter than the former).
Page: Where did you come up with the idea for Avignon?
John: The idea for Avignon’s mechanisms came from a conversation with Daniel Solis about adapting the “tug-of-war” mechanism from Word on the Street into a strategy game. My idea was to also borrow the scaling actions from Guildhall to have cards that got more or less powerful based on how close to you they were. The Guildhall-related part of the idea didn’t stick (although it came back for one of the expansion cards), but the tug-of-war strategy concept eventually became Avignon.
The theme came from the monthly Game Design Showdown on the Board Game Designers Forum. At the time, the game had a theme about folk tale animals that suffered from a lot of problems. When the Game Design Showdown for one month presented a mandatory theme of “religion”, I started thinking outside the box. I’d seen games where players played as gods, and games where players used a faith’s theology as the theme, but I wanted to do something using a historical event relating to religion. I remembered the Avignon schism – a time where two people claimed to be the legitimate Pope – and realized that it fit perfectly with a game I had been working on that sorely needed a new theme.
Page: Did you have any big hurdles while developing the game?
John: Surprisingly, I had very few hurdles when developing the game. It’s gone through a few visual facelifts – replacing tiles with cards and a retheming – but the bones of the game are more or less exactly what they were when I first began testing the game.
Page: Have you got plans for anymore games in the future?
John: I have two games I’m working on now. One is a deduction game I’ve been working on for a couple years where you’re trying to find a sock lost in the laundry, and the other is a much more recent project where players take the role of the United Auto Workers during the sit-down strikes of the 1930s.
Page: What style of player do you think will enjoy this game?
John: This is a game for people who like light, quick strategy games. It’s thinkier than the usual 15-minute filler like Love Letter, but not so heavy that a casual gamer can’t pick it up and follow it. During the Kickstarter, we’ve had a number of backers pick it up as a “couple” game – a game they can play with their significant other, especially after the kids go to bed. And that fits the conditions under which I designed it, so I’m not surprised it’s appealing to that audience.
Page: Do you plan to get your game out into local game stores, or will you sell mainly online?
John: Sales plan is entirely on the publisher side. I’d love for the game to eventually find its way into retail stores, but the only ButtonShy design that’s seeing a store release is one that sold out on the web store and then got picked up by a larger publisher. I will have no complaints if Avignon follows a similar path, but for now, it will only be available online.
Page: How has your experience been working with Button Shy games?
John: I’ve really enjoyed working with Button Shy. They’re a small company that specializes in games the size of Avignon, so they were an ideal company to approach, and Jason Tagmire’s used his contacts from previous designs to get the game things like the amazing artwork of Fabrice Weiss.
Page: Do you find any cards to be stronger than any others? If so, which ones, if not, how did you go about balancing each of the cards?
John: We’re fairly certain that none of the base game’s cards are more powerful than any of the others. I did a lot of public playtesting of Avignon through the UnPub program, and showed it off to experienced designers to test for holes. I was especially concerned about characters that allowed the greatest “net movement” – the Peasant, for example, moves one card in your direction with no cost, and the Cardinal offered a four-for-one trade over two actions. However, testing showed that both cards had enough limitation in choice that they balanced well against the “net movement zero” characters.
Page: Thanks so much for taking some time to do this interview, and congratulations on an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign. I can’t wait to hear about all the backers having fun with Avignon, and what you come up with next!
With this post, I conclude my final interview and hope everyone has enjoyed them as much as I did writing them, and getting to know some great game designers. As I said, I will do some explaining during a midweek post, but until then, I love you all!
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