Tim Fowers Interview

On a balmy evening in early June, I had the pleasure of speaking to board game creator and auteur, Tim Fowers of Fowers games. He might be best known as the creative force behind Fowers, the creator of a list of very popular games, From his deck builder HARDBACK, chase and escape games FUGITIVE, 2018 award winning co op NOW BOARDING, WOK STAR his fast food, real time, first release and his latest BURGLE BROS 2 the co-operative crime caper sequel to the co-op heist BURGLE BROS. We meet on Discord and Tim is welcoming, I have been slightly delayed thanks to a lovely summers evening of train delays. Tim starts warmly. He is a bundle of energy. We start with the obligatory hellos and then move into questions. I wondered coming from a continuously creative family, how did he get into games? I find out that he grew up on a farm until the age of 8. Then in the mid-80s, the US government rolled out the dairy farm buy outs and his family moved to the city. Many cities. This stirred his creativity.

He was always creative, mind but after all this moving Fowers set about creating things. Building toys as a kid seemed to be his favourite thing. He built transformers, yes, those robots in disguise. All with moving parts. All alike to their onscreen brothers and sisters. It truly is amazing what you can build with a little imagination and desire. Some of those elements go into what he does with his games. Fowers went on to study physics at university. This explains his other passion also, game design. Themes within many of his games like TURNING (https://www.fowers.games/pages/turning) and his new one CHIASM (https://store.steampowered.com/app/1556550/Chiasm/). One is about space and time, the other about alternatives and inversion. BURGLE BROS 2 is our focus mind. The new game and sequel to 2015 BURGLE BROS. It is a step away from the original. New setting in Vegas, (a Casino) to its new introductions (random player tokens, Finales, New room types, a tiger and of course that new Hunt mode).

Where do the idea come from? Do the games reflect your personality? Fowers laughs at my running over two questions at once. The idea he explains comes from the coolness of that 1960s. He notes that Saul Bass and the titles from CATCH ME IF YOU CAN influenced NOW BOARDING, BURGLE BROS 2 was a riff from OCEANS 11 crime capers and heist movies (the original and its reboot). Some of this is thanks to the creative magic of Ryan Goldsberry, long-time collaborator on art within the games. But that is only half the story. Fowers seems to love the age of flight. The chic set traversing the world and making it cool just to be you. The 1960s were swinging and they set a trend. Fowers is less impressed by the overly sculpted ages of the 80s.

To my other question he smiles. With BURGLE BROS 2 it is a desire, well need, to explore players vulnerability and how they sacrifice for their team. Players must work together, and some have essential skills. For Fowers it is all about evolving the relationships of players while they are at play. I asked Fowers about this thread in his games. It is not his only game where he has brought cooperation together. Adapting players to work together. He tells me this because he prefers games with unity at their centre. Team experiences are about making the most of the team. So, a player who is caught in an unexpected trap (thanks to the new tokens which throw up odd distractions), must rely on others. Without them, they cannot succeed. All for one and all that.

I question why Fowers did not just release an expansion to the original BURGLE BROS? He is firm on his answer. They had enough new ideas and additional content to give a new and improved game. The size of the box would certainly endorse this. BURGLE BROS was a co-op as well. Fowers mentioned, it relied more on the ability of one or the mastery of none. Skills were less making or breaking the task, more luck by chance. Now in BURGLE BROS 2, it has a harder edge. You have to all work through it. No sneaking through by the skin of your teeth. This is important to Fowers. He sees it as an improvement to the original. Some might point out you can mix this with BURGLE BROS, but it is the elements like the new tiles (called perks and pitfalls) and the finales, that make it a new game. You do not just simply escape with the ill-gotten gains.

This set up and pay off in BURGLE BROS 2 is not a new experience for Fowers. This idea has become cohesive in some of his other works. In WOK STAR, you were undertime and had to forward think, in NOW BOARDING you worked together under pressure to deliver customers. The end goals however were less secure. Yes, much of the way delivered universal success. But a single-issue mind. The lack of will to help if you were still able to claim victory could overshadow. As the game moved on, you were often balanced differently. Success was less communal. BURGLE BROS 2 really is about the communal elements. There is a humility in working together Fowers say. I see it as also Humanity. To me, humanity seem to drive this engine. Maybe it is driven as much by an inclusive spirt outside of competitive play as by Fowers being raised in the Mormon faith. One built on the universal cohesion of a group of people.

Fowers reminds me of a film director. A writer and director. Why do I say this? Three things strike me. Firstly, He works tirelessly on his projects. He thinks games. Writes games, programmes games. He kickstarts them, releases them, distributes them. He is an all-around master. Control is an issue but more, it is his desire to deliver. He knows what he wants from games and often the genesis is rich and rapid. The second is a desire to always craft and restructure his work. It began with his first commercial game, WOK STAR. He play tested it. Jeff Krause and Skye Larsen are the perfect pair for this now but then. He play designed it. Tried to sell it. Then finally he released it. He still discusses the changes he wants to make on WOK STAR. On to its 3rd version (which was well received), he wants to find its core. It has been left for now, but he wants to do something else with it. When the creative cloud comes over, he will no doubt find its core. The third and final thing is that drive to deliver quality.

Fowers has been in the process of developing variants. In the modern game’s realm, rejigging games are a regular occurrence. Be honest, millions of versions of popular games are known but a select few have grown thanks to Covid. Listening to the comments of those most involved (i.e. us the players), then crafting a perfect solution. In games variants deliver this. A set of solutions to the mechanics of the way play is.  All of it makes for a better game. Well almost that is. Sometimes these need to go through testing. So we have the BURGLE BROS 2 variant which alters some of the apparent sticky pieces of the game.  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lN6os8DxDgkOW14563FTBKvyf8-4qnrcEiPa5XJTrZ0/edit?usp=sharing

I could spend all day speaking to the man. Not only his creative energy but his thoughts on psychology and play philosophy are almost melodious. However we have run out of time. So it leaves me one last question. Why did he play the bagpipes? He laughed. Its just something he likes doing. Wow, what a guy!

Want to buy BURGLE BROS 2? https://www.fowers.games/products/burgle-bros-2

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