Benoit Turpin interview, designer of Welcome To… French Game Designer Benoit Turpin is a wonderful and charismatic personality that has brought some amazing games to market and has many more exciting things on the horizon. His top claim to fame right now is the incredibly popular thematic roll + write game Welcome To… that hit the market in 2019 to a huge response and has since released many also very popular expansions. The latest and most ambitious in the Welcome universe has just dropped and it is big, Welcome To… Las Vegas.
We had an opportunity to speak with Benoit to get a better sense of where he has been and where he is going. Now that he is a fresh face in the board game world, we are happy to have him. We also must thank him and call him out for how gracious he was with his time and willing to answer all of our questions in great detail, a wonderful person. See the full interview below.
Welcome To… Las Vegas is out now!
Stop what you are doing, head over to Amazon and order this right now!! The amazing read you are about to receive is worth to the ticket price alone.
Original Benoit Turpin Interview Conducted: April 6, 2020
1. Please tell me a little about your background.
I grew up in the suburbs of a large French city, Toulouse, in the south of France, with an older brother and a younger sister. A pretty standard middle class upbringing with my mum being a teacher and my dad in HR. As a kid, I was (and still am) into history and wanted to be an archaeologist.
2. What experience in your life prepared you for board game design?
I think that what prepared me most were my hours of gameboard plays during my childhood… I have always loved playing games, classics such as Hotels, Inkognito or the Mysteries of Peking, then role-playing games (MERP), figurines (Warhammer), and “new” board games like Heroquest. I never really wanted to leave that behind.
Loving games is the first step. But I didn’t prepare like many of my designer friends, with house rules of regular board games. I would never have dared changing a rule in an existing game… Rather, I kept playing and playing (Pandemic, Endeavor, Agricola,…) as I grew up but got more and more frustrated that my gaming time was getting shorter, due to life constraints.
One way to alleviate that was to use board games as a tool in the classroom, making my students create a new version of Timeline or Love Letter to fit WW2 chronology or the greek mythology. I started to work in an archaeological museum as a teacher hosting classes. In that context, I was free to create activities that felt more like games to the students. I always hated the “here’s a list of questions, go around and find the answers” type of visits so this allowed them to discover the museum in a better set of mind.
3. What was that moment in life where you said: “I am going to design a game”?
In 2013, all that converged into a game of Eclipse… I was creating “gaming activities” in the classroom and at the museum, I was very eager to play games but didn’t find enough time / people and I got really excited to discover this euro-version of TI4… We didn’t finish the 1st game (because it takes forever…) but I loved it, most notably how it felt very immersive for a euro-game. So when the following week, we got to play a new game, I was extatic… and completely fumbled my first turn which left me to watch my friends play for the following 4 hours…
Since I had time, I started to look at what I liked in the game and what I didn’t. I ended up feeling disappointed with the game, not because I lost (or else I would despise pretty much all of my games…) but because the second part of the game felt way less thematic. I loved how the tech tree made your ships behave differently at the beginning of the game but was disappointed when I realized that towards the end, you would just improve your tech tree to get points, without any effect on your gameplay. And that’s when I told myself “what if I designed a game that would have that tech tree that affects your gameplay throughout the game?”. And then it was all over for me… 😉
4. Your first game out was Optimo!, how did that come together?
My first game was my first idea, from that very first night… But the process took me on a long ride… My idea was to create a wordgame with a tech tree. It was called “incremento” and you started the game with amnesia and, bit by bit, you’d learn back some of the letters, type of words (plural, verbs,…) or length of words; while trying to find words, scrabble-style.
It was a rather intense experience, with tons of components and a 2 player limit. I brought it to my first boardgame event, Ludix (a French equivalent to the Unpub conventions in the US) where the game was met with interest and tough feedback, most notably from Matthieu d’Epenoux, the boss of the French publisher Cocktail Games (Imagine, Profiler, Contrario,…).
He told me he really enjoyed the game, and that it would never be published in a million years. It took me a few minutes to understand the logic.
He told me he really enjoyed the game, and that it would never be published in a million years. It took me a few minutes to understand the logic. I was very naive and completely unaware of the gaming market constraints. He then told me that if I could make the same game in 55 square cards (his standard format) he might publish it. That got me thinking hard and I managed to distill the essence of the game into a 50-card game (and a timer).
At the end of the day, it was another publisher, Topi Games, that ended up working on the project and the game came out in 2015.
5. Did you learn anything in particular from that experience?
I learned many, many things. Too many to tell here. But the two most important were probably –
(1) Be aware of the gaming world in general: what games come out, who plays what, what are the component to price ratio… The more you know, the better a designer you are. It makes you more efficient, more open minded and more capable to knowingly break some of the gaming boundaries that exist today.
(2) Don’t rush to sign a game. I didn’t end up signing with cocktail games because I was so eager that I presented my first 50-card version, a version that was way too difficult, especially for a publisher famous for its party games. If I had waited until the next (and currently final) version, I might have gotten more of a shot. Instead I signed with another publisher whose fit with the game is questionable (he now publishes mostly youtuber-sanctionned party games and is doing very well in a segment that doesn’t interest me), and that probably killed the game from the getgo. Finding the right publisher for your game is more important than finding a publisher fast.
6. Your second game out was the runaway hit roll-n-write (or flip-n-write depending on who you talk to) Welcome To. How was the process of that game coming together and how did it differ from your other experiences?
I had a prototype on the shelf for a few years, based on the idea of a dice game with no bad roll (i complain a lot about my lack of luck in dice rolls in campaign games like descent… 😉 ) but it wasn’t working according to several publishers (in their right mind).
I was working on a different prototype for Blue Cocker that never came out and Alain, my publisher, was complaining that I kept on adding components so one week-end, I decided to pull my old prototype from the shelf to try to see if I could reduce its size and solve its problem in one stroke… And that stroke was turning it into a roll & write.
I was already a fan of Qwixx & Qwinto, and I felt that the R&W route might solve the simultaneity problem I had with the game. And indeed it worked. So I came back to Alain, placed the 3 dice of the whole prototype on the table, and told him “happy now?” Of course, he wasn’t but he enjoyed the game and it quickly evolved into Welcome to…
7. How and why did you come up with “BIS” as one of the six action cards? I am aware this is a French real estate term and I always try to explain it to other Americans as the house behind the main house that gets a “B” added to the end of the address, but people are always confused. Any back story there? Do you get this a lot?
The point of the BIS action was to create a difference in timing between players, so that some can have more boxes (houses) numbered than the others, but at a cost. It creates some risk taking, which is needed in a random for all and write setting.
When we created the 50s suburbs theme to fit the game, we quickly decided that the action for building 2 adjacent houses during the same turn would be “making your house longer” but since we couldn’t modify the look of the houses, my publisher decided to use the BIS theme to explain that you create a house that is connected to yours, but worth less (with a penalty), which are usually the case with these smaller Bis & Ter houses.
It is a common notion in France. I told my publisher that Americans wouldn’t get it (i lived a couple of years in the US, in NC & CA) and that would be a problem. And he assured me he was right… he was (so) wrong… We are currently rewriting the rules as I answer this interview and the Bis action is our main focus…
8. Was there anything in the prototype you were sure was going to work but you had to end up scrapping because it wasn’t?
The only thing that I was absolutely sure wouldn’t be scrapped actually got scrapped… The whole game comes from this “double-entry dice” with a color and a number that you add numerically and chromatically. A 7 blue + a 3 yellow makes a 10 green. There were 3 dices, giving each time 3 combination of number (from 2 to 16 with 8-sided dice) + color (6 different ones); with milllions of possibilities.
A FLGS owner told us at some point that he believed the dice should be scrapped and I had to admit (very reluctantly) that he was right.
I loved the simplicity of the concept. And i couldn’t imagine the game without them. But a FLGS owner told us at some point that he believed the dice should be scrapped and I had to admit (very reluctantly) that he was right : the mathematical operations involved each turn to obtain the 3 combinations was a put off for some people, it lengthened the game by 20 minutes & it was not helpful themewise…
Luckily, I managed to come up with the card flipping solution to keep the same mechanism, losing a bit of purity, but gaining tons : more theme on the cards, more ease of play, the possibility to show what would be coming next,…
9. The wonderful 1950s suburbia artwork on Welcome To was done by Anne Heidsieck. How did she become involved with the project and what was her contribution?
Anne had been working for Blue Cocker for a few games already (Meeple War, Argh) and Alain was eager for her to work on this project as well. Anne was very helpful. First, of course, by sheer talent, she made my spreadsheet-like prototype look like a cool suburbs in the 50s. Then, even though the theme was already picked before she came on board, she added so much flair.
She was at the initiative of reversing all the sexist stereotypes of the days (woman in charge on the cover, flipped fake ads for the player aids), adding personality to the game. And finally, she helped us a lot in regards to ergonomics. The spreadsheet nature of the game made the final tally a bit steep for some players, and the way she manage to graphically organise it all makes it much more intuitive.
10. There have been great expansions for Welcome To and it looks like they are not stopping any time soon. Who drives that, have you always had the idea for these or is it something else? What is that process like?
Actually, the first idea that came out of the box was for a standalone sequel, that turned out to be “Welcome to New Las Vegas”, just out in France, and coming really soon in America, Spain, Poland, and the Netherlands.
It started a few days after Welcome to… came out, as we realized the game was doing much better than expected. However, the development process took over a year. I went (too) far in trying to make the game new and fresh and it became a brain burner of a game. I liked it but it was too much for the players. So after about 6 months of development, I scraped it all, or rather I put everything in a blender and mixed it all to fit a more coherent pattern that made more sense to the players and eased on the difficulty level.
And while I was doing that, our American partner wanted to sell some new thematic sheets (just different graphics), and soon I realized that we could also add a tiny rule to fit with different themes to keep the game fresh whilst keeping its simplicity. And soon it made sense to release the expansions before the more beefed up standalone sequel.
I had a lot of fun developing these new sheets and I have more ideas. One of them is coming in France for a new special expansion, which is a crossover with another game called “La Petite Mort” (based on a French comic). It is pretty interesting because I believe it is the first expansion ever that works for 2 completely different games, with the same components, with their themes mixed.
As for new expansions, I think we’ll stop here, because, hopefully next year, we will release the last (?) standalone box of the Welcome line: WELCOME TO THE MOON, which integrates many of my new ideas into a campaign / legacy style roll & write where the players will try to leave earth, fly to the moon, create a colony, and much more…
11. Can you talk a little about your process of how you approach making a game?
I used to be a mechanism first type of guy. But the more I design, the more I become a “feeling first” type of guy. I still design with mechanisms in mind, and use the theme to create sense and ease of play. But I also value more and more the type of emotion that the game creates and how it fits with the rest.
I look at what the players feel when playing the game and I try to accentuate that by tweaking the mechanisms and the theme. The second thing that changed over the course of the last few years is the fact that I tend to co-design games more and more.
He showed me a game of his that worked but lacked a twist, and then a few hours later, I was showing him a twist for one of my new games that didn’t work. And then we looked at each other, and a new game was born… You design for such a moment…
Working with someone else makes it all much more interesting as we go back and forth. For example, my last new co-design (with Florian Sirieix) came from a design session where he showed me a game of his that worked but lacked a twist, and then a few hours later, I was showing him a twist for one of my new games that didn’t work. And then we looked at each other, and a new game was born… You design for such a moment…
12. Do you ever go to trade shows or conventions, what is that like for you? Any interesting experiences?
I go to the main gaming festivals in France (Cannes, Paris, Toulouse), and Essen. And I’ll try to go to Nuremberg and Gen Con next year. It is very important for me. It is the best time to meet with publishers and show new designs. Creating a network is one of the most important tasks as a designer. If you want to publish your games and these conventions are the place to do so.
It is also useful for monitoring the gaming market, to know what’s coming, who’s doing what,… And it is a blast to attend when you meet friends all the time and have a drink with them. The International Gaming Festival of Cannes is where I signed my first games, where my first games got released. And that’s where everything happens in France. My next stop is doing that internationally at Gen Con and more at Essen.
13. Given everything you have accomplished so far, has there been a particular moment that was special in your journey?
I don’t recall any particular aha moment that changed everything. It has been more of a slow process of realizing that I was a part of the gaming community. It is a very welcoming hobby. At my first convention (the equivalent of Unpub in France), I got to hang out with Clem & Seb from future CatchUp Games (Paper Tales, Fertility, WildSpace) that immediately helped me, as well as Matthieu D’Epenoux, the boss from Cocktail Games publishing house, who gave me invaluable tips from the get go.
Every year, I meet new people that seemed unattainable, and I learn new skills. A moment that I enjoy remembering (not for its design value) is last year when I was invited at Les Ludopathiques (Faidutti’s equivalent of the Gathering of Friends), playing a game of Let’s make a bus route with Adrien, the Days of Wonders boss. It felt pretty insane.
14. Are there any games that you love or have been an inspiration to you either in design or in your personal life?
It is not so much the games I love that are inspiration as the games I am disappointed with…
Games I love (Hanabi, Unlock, Raja of the Ganges, the mind… to name a few), I am just impressed and jealous… 😉 The other games, they create this frustration that I manage to turn into a creative process. For example, I so wanted to love String Railways because the string component felt so appealing. But I was disappointed by my plays and that turned into a few prototypes of mine that aimed at creating the emotion I didn’t get from playing the game (and two should be releasing next year…). Same thing with Undo. It promises so much and delivered so little (for me…) that I immediately started working on a game.
15. Are there any behind the scenes perspective you can give us on the board game business?
I am not a publisher, even though I started to work for one lately. So I am not an expert on these questions. But what I can say is don’t release your game in November or December because your game will disappear before the flow of Essen releases. Release expansions as soon as you can if your game is successful. Not as much to sell these but rather to keep the audience interested in the base game longer in a market overflooded with games.
Do not go to Kickstarter just because publishers don’t want your game. They’re probably right…
As for kickstarter, the US market is very different from the European one so I cannot comment on the US part but here, do not release a KS unless you have access to professionals to help you navigate in this very specific market. And do not go to KS just because publishers don’t want your game. They’re probably right…
16. What is the designer/publisher relationship like? (Is there a lot of communication and collaboration or are they two different separate pieces of the puzzle that do not really interact?)
It really depends on the people themselves. I have a publisher who’s releasing one of my games next year that told me that the illustrations for the game were done and I didn’t even know they had found someone. And I have another one that sends me every bit of info and makes me very involved in the publishing process (creating inserts or punchboards).
I do prefer the latter type of relationship but there’s a wide array so it is always a good opportunity to learn. The publisher gets the final cut on most decisions but I’d rather have a say. And the more I delve into the gaming world, the more I realize that I want to spend that time working with people I like. So now choosing a publisher for my games also depends heavily on whether I will enjoy working with them, apart from financial reasons like what kind of distribution they have or what kind of contract do they offer.
17. What does the future look like for you? What are you working on?
The future looked bright until the Coronavirus came along… I have been working full time in the
game industry since September, trying to survive on royalties and a part time job for Blue Cocker as Project Manager. And now all the releases are postponed, all the conventions are cancelled and all the stores are closed. So it is not the perfect time to try to make it in a new job…
But hopefully, everything will fall back into place and my new games will make it to market. As I
said earlier, the future for the Welcome line is the “Vegas” sequel that hopefully will ride the storm and gets an international release, the crossover expansion called Welcome to La Petite Mort, the future standalone Welcome to the Moon in 2021.
For 2020, I also have a game with Flying Games (Jurassic Snack) called Prehistories with Alex Emerit, and a game called Number Drop with Florian Sirieix and Debacle Jeux. For 2021, I should have 3 or 4 more games ready to be announced soon. And many many more games in the works, mainly as co-designs with friends.
18. What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into board game design?
Go for it! But realize that you most likely won’t make any money with it. Do it for the pleasure of creating a game, of meeting amazing people, of seeing people play your prototype. Do it with others, find a local design group. Be open for criticism. Be ready to change your game. Be aware that you have some skills and you miss some. Have fun!
19. For someone who might want to publish their own board game, what piece of the whole creation, production, distribution and marketing puzzle of a game release is something people underestimate as being as important or as difficult to get right as it is?
And if you need more words, I believe that designing a game and publishing a game require two very different sets of skills. First, you might not have both (not everyone is Ryan Laukat). But more importantly, even if you do, you would still lack the necessary distance about your own design.
Having someone else, less personally involved in your design process, be there to reign you in and show you what’s wrong with your game is fundamental for the success of your game. You cannot do that alone.
And that precludes all other problems not directly linked to your design : the factory you’ll use, the illustrator you’ll find, the distribution you’ll get,… it is so very far from designing a game… If that attracts you, may be you should become a publisher instead.
20. If you ever encounter someone who doesn’t know anything about board games and you want to help show them how great they can be, what do you tell them and what game or games do you recommend?
I might point to the celebrities playing boardgames (such as Kristen Bell or Daniel Radcliffe) so the stigma of boardgames (only for kids, long / boring / …) can be erased a bit, if that’s something that might appeal to him/her.
But most importantly, I would make him/her play games because telling is not enough. You have to experience boardgames to realize how amazing they are. And I’ll make them play games that are short, fun and easily accessible.
I’ve made the dire error 10 years ago to introduce boardgames to my future wife with Myrmes, a heavy euro game and she has yet to forgive me… 😉 So, today, depending on the people playing, I’ll go with The Mind, The Game, Qwixx, Just One, Profiler (Whozit), Codenames, Top10, Paku Paku, Word on the street, Concept, Imagine, No thanks, Similo,…