Ask for a list of the best designers in the board gaming hobby right now and Rob Daviau’s name would be at the top of that list. Since 1998 he has developed over 70 board games receiving critical acclaim for his efforts including numerous design awards. Pandemic Legacy Season 1, which Rob co-designed with Matt Leacock, currently holds the number 1 spot on BoardGame Geek. So when I heard that Rob’s next big game release was not designed by him at all, I was curious. Rob has embarked on an ambitious project with fellow gamer, designer, and games lawyer Justin Jacobson, to take old games and breathe new life into them. They have set about getting the rights to old games that were deeply loved and restoring them for a modern audience. This is more than a cosmetic facelift, this is going through the whole game and considering how our modern understanding of game design can improve and refine these games. When you hear Rob and Justin discuss their project they talk about sharing the joy they felt playing these games as kids. They use language that focusses on the heartfelt commitment to sharing their love of the games with modern audiences. This project is clearly an act of love more than anything else. Their first game is the 1979 classic Stop Thief. It was successfully funded on Kickstarter recently and is the first of many great games destined to find their way onto our shelves. I reached out to Rob and asked him to share some more with us about what he’s doing.
Thanks Rob for sharing with us today. Can you talk briefly about your relationship with Justin Jacobson and how you two conceived of Restoration Games.
Justin has been my corporate lawyer since I set out from Hasbro 5 years ago. My wife went to a panel of his at Gen Con and told me that I needed to have him as a lawyer. About a year ago, early in 2016, he approached me with the idea for Restoration Games. I was reluctant to be part of yet another publisher until he gave me the hook of bringing back out-of-print games. I was instantly sold.
What attracted you to this idea of restoring games? Is there something in this process that is more desirable than just creating a new game with those mechanics?
There are so many games coming out each year that it’s easy to forget how many good games have come out in the past. Whether they are memorable, nostalgic, missed gems, or almost-but-not-quite-great games, there are plenty of games that really should get back to the table.
I was personally attracted to this because it became a nice counterpoint to designing original games. I can spend about 3 days a week on new ideas and 2 days on restoring games….who am I kidding? It’s really about 4 days and 3 days a week.
Justin stated in an interview that you have started with the games you want to restore and can easily get the rights for. What games do you most want to work on regardless of how hard it will be?
Good ones. Nostalgic ones. I’m being cagey because I don’t want to spoil any of our upcoming ideas. But I do put on a business hat and really think about which games would generate the most excitement rather than just games that I personally want to remake.
Are there any classic games you would not want to work on because they are either too good to change or too hard to change?
What game mechanics from the past do you think need to be laid to rest and which ones have yet to be fully appreciated?
Laid to rest is a strong term but I will say that I am very happy never to lose a turn or have any one lose a turn ever again. Roll and move is out of fashion, and I get it, but who knows if that will come back some day with a fresh perspective? But older games tend to have more downtime, are harsher to bad (or novice) play, and can be more chaotic.
Your first project is Stop Thief. What about this game did you want to save and share with a new audience and what needed to change?
The game was pretty close in its 1979 version, except for two things: roll and move and random event cards that created chaos. We found a way to combine these two ideas into a new system of card-driven movement that also gave special powers. It really is the same idea as the original but with a more modern take.
Now that Stop Thief has finished a successful Kickstarter campaign are people able to still order a copy trough the campaign, or how might they find a copy?
We will have for sale at Gen Con and in normal retail distribution about the same time or soon after. We’re new so we’re figuring out international distribution, online sales, etc so please be patient.
What games can we expect to see coming out and what about them should we be excited about?
In addition to Stop Thief, our first year also has Downforce, which is a restoration of Wolfgang Kramer’s Top Race/Daytona 500/Detroit Grand Prix series. Our third game in the line is Indulgence, which is a restoration of DragonMaster/Coup d’Etat, a trick-taking game from the 70s/80s. All will be available in the fall (or spring for our friends in the southern hemisphere). We’ll be talking upcoming games at Gen Con this year. No news until then.
Some of the designers of games you are restoring are still alive. Is there any apprehension about altering another designer’s game? Would you be looking for their approval before publishing?
Oh, absolutely. With Wolfgang Kramer, we ran our changes by him to get his blessing. Dr. Robert Doyle, the designer of Stop Thief, gave us carte blanche. The designer of DragonMaster has passed away but his game was based on a public domain game from the 1920s. We looked at all the versions and thought about what we wanted to do but, of course, there was no one to confer with.
What kind of release schedule can we look forward to from Restoration Games?
We’re still figuring this out but I’d say 2-4 games a year for the first few years.
What other projects are you working on that we should keep an eye out for?
I have Pandemic Legacy, Season 2 coming out later this summer/early fall. I’m hoping that people are ready for another ride.
There is so much to be excited about and I know our editor in chief, Angela, is practically giddy for Pandemic Legacy Season 2. I am sure it will be a hit. If you want to find out more about what Rob and Justin are doing go to their website Restoration Games.