GenCon 2017: An interview with Justin Jacobson

At GenCon 2017, our very own Josh Hale had the fortune of speaking with Justin Jacobson, President of Restoration Games.

JH: I’m here with Justin Jacobson president of Restoration Games. The games that they have out right now are Downforce and as well as the new Stop Thief! What else am I missing as you’re generally more familiar with your line than I am.

JJ: So we have one other game that’s out at the end of this show and that is Indulgence. It is a trick taking game. Originally based off on 1981’s Dragon Master. Before that there was Coup D’état. It’s most notable for being only $20 with very simple mechanics. Everyone round you’re picking a new contract or rule. So for $20 you get all these cards and a ring. Obviously the other 2 games are Stop Thief! and Downforce.

JH: Can you tell me more about both of those?


JJ: Let’s start with Stop Thief!. This is game from 1979 that was originally designed by Dr Robert Doyle, an actual NASA rocket scientist. He married his wife who was also at NASA and since they had very strict nepotism laws there, one of them had to go. So he decided to leave NASA and make games. He was a brilliant guy and an amazing inventor. He invented the first desktop publishing software, co-invented pod casting and came up with an electronic version of Battle Ship and Codename Sector. In addition, he worked on many electronic games and toys. So Stop Thief! came with this huge hunk of plastic and what was known then as this crime scanner that made all these 8-bits sounds. We contacted Dr. Doyle to re-release the game and he was gracious to let us have its license.
One of the first things we did was instead of packaging this electronic device along Stop Thief!, we decided to develop it as a smartphone app. So we have a Restoration Games smartphone app that you can download that has a Stop Thief! module in it. We have other modules coming soon for other games such as Downforce that keeps track of scoring.


JH: The app will be a free service?

An overview of the game board.

JJ: It’s free on all the major platforms and we’re constantly updating. We released this a few weeks ago and will have an update coming up shortly. Stop Thief! is an audio deduction game. Like Scotland Yard, it’s a hidden movement game. The thief’s movement that players are attempting to deduce is based upon the sound that the thief makes. So unlike Scotland Yard where a player has to play the hidden role, the app plays as the thief. Let’s say that we start the app and it will say that the thief is on a particular crime space in a particular building. Players know where the thief is, roughly, but not its exact location. On a player’s turn, they hit a clue button. The app plays a certain sound that provides clues to the whereabouts of the thief, such as a corridor sounds or windows and doors opening. By listening to a sequence of sound clues, players should be able to deduce on the map where the thief is. Each player plays an investigator (there are 6 investigator decks in the game). Playing a card from your hand may move you a certain number of spaces. Other cards have special abilities. For example one investigator is able to move through windows whereas other investigators can’t, one being able to steal from other investigators and another who can run really fast. Whilst another investigator has the ability to retrieve all the cards. The roles are asymmetrical.
At some point in, an investigator thinks that he or she could be adjacent to or on a thief, tell the app that you wish to make an arrest by punching in the number of the space where you think the thief is. The app will play sounds of sirens approaching to let you know if you’re right. If you’re right, the investigator will get a special reward such as the thief’s special ability, such as drawing more cards or to take another turn. Once that’s done, players can start with another thief. There are a few ways players can win this, the first to get the most money or the first to catch two thieves. The cool thing about having this app driven is that we can expand features to the game by developing the app further.

   

JH: I can see that.

JJ: We ran a Kickstarter back in March and we were very successful. We managed to get around a hundred thousand dollars with around 2500 backers. We kept stretch goals for different modes of play in the same game. We are currently working on the different difficulty levels on the app such as will the thief double back, go to a door and not go through it or will he use the subway. That sort of thing will be determined by the app. The app will also feature different modes of play such as solo, co-op and one-versus-all. The idea is to do all that through the app for the same game.
We’re also planning to have the retro version of the app. So if you have the original version of the game from 1979, you can also use our app to play with the original game board. Or if you want, you can have the app play the old retro sounds with the new game board. Just a few fun little features we plan to have in the app.
So by using the app in place of the electronic features from 1979, we are able to make the game more robust and with potentially more gameplay by extending the features of the app.

JH: That’s great. What about Downforce?

JJ: Downforce was originally designed by Wolfgang Kramer in 1986. It was nominated for Spiel de Jahres. It didn’t win but his other game EL Grande did. So he had two games nominated that year. He put up about 8 different versions of it su ch as Daytona 500, Top Race and Detroit and Cleveland Grand Prix. These games just sort of disappeared for about 20 years. We wanted to bring it all back and we took all the best parts of these games and put them all together. The other thing we did was to make give this game a really gorgeous production that was the old game never had. We made this huge 6 fold board, double sided with two different tracks with amazing art. The cars themselves are really cool with two tone plastic cars.

The gameplay itself is heaps of fun, there’s a good reason why it keeps coming back as its real solid design. It’s a card driven game with three parts to it. First, you auction off the cars. There’s this really neat mechanic that Rob Daviau came up with. You have a hand of speed cards with different colors and numbers on them. Rob came up with the idea of using those for auction as well. You bid by playing one of those cards on the table to signify how much you want to bid on that car in that auction. All cars are auctioned off with a player having at least one car in the race for the most part usually.

Once the race is started, a player plays one of their speed cards and all cars must be moved in the order of top to bottom the number of spaces indicated on the speed card. The trick comes is to make the car that you want to win move as far as possible but not the other cars by making them move sub-optimally by making them stuck in a corner or get a car to move 6 places but there’s another car 2 places in front, so 4 places are pretty much forfeited. So that’s where a lot of the strategy comes in. There are some betting lines on the track, so when a car passes a betting line, all players should bet on the car that they think are going to win.

 

 

 

You can bet on your own car or someone else’s car. Betting is done a total of three times. Once the race is finished, place the cars from first place to sixth and total up all the winnings of the cars you own for the race plus all the winnings for the bets that you made and subtract the auction price. So the more money you bid on the cars at the beginning, the more money you spend at the end. It’s a really neat game that all comes together and plays from 2-6 players and takes about 30 minutes, 40 tops.

Because it’s a double sided board, one side is from the Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix. It’s more open and friendlier. The other side is like a Frankenstein track that Rob Daviau put together. It’s got all kinds of choke points and turns. My favorite way to play is with that side with 6 players. We also added variable player powers. So each player will get unique abilities that will affect the outcome of the race. If you want to play it with younger players, there’s a variation whereby you can remove the betting mechanic and even the variable player powers. With this variation, you can play with players as young as six.

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