Game Designer Interview: Joshua DeBonis and Nikola Risteski Discuss Dice Miner
Today, we're interviewing Joshua DeBonis and Nikola Risteski, the designers of Dice Miner. They share how the three-dimensional mountain board came to be, the importance of regular collaborative meetings, and introducing a new rule late in the game development process. Whether you're interested in Dice Miner for its gameplay or development (or both!) we think you'll learn something from these two designers.
Josh DeBonis is the president of BumbleBear Games, where he designs arcade games. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife Amanda. Nikola Risteski is French-born, residing in the US, managing IT by day, designing board games by night. He lives in Hoboken, NJ with his wife Siri and two kids, Anna and Kyle, who are already Dice Miner masters. Dice Miner is Niko and Josh's second collaboration. Their first game together, Isle of Monsters, was released in 2017.
Where did the idea for Dice Miner come from?
In our first collaboration, Isle of Monsters, we initially had a mechanic of dice drafting that we didn’t keep to simplify the game, but we always wanted to revive this piece into another game which we have now with Dice Miner.
How did the game change as you developed it, either before or after you signed the design with Atlas?
It has been an absolute pleasure to be part of the game development with Atlas, a great partnership! Heroes have been the latest and interesting addition during development. Jeff was able to do a huge amount of playtesting, and some of the feedback he was receiving was that, especially with 4 players, scoring in the first first round was often uninteresting as there weren’t enough dice. So we added the hero mechanic to ensure that players would always have at least two more dice to score at the end of the first round. It has the nice side-effects of embodying the players, as well as giving them an immediate goal.
Regarding game design, the move from 2D to a 3D mountain using gravity as a board has been the biggest and greatest change on the game.
What is something that you thought a lot about that might not be obvious?
The original prototype of the game didn’t include the mountain. Instead, the dice laid flat on the table. We struggled to figure out a way to do the setup cleanly and simply, and to make it clear which direction was “up”. It took a long time, but we eventually arrived at the mountain design and the idea of letting gravity do the work. As soon as we started to prototype the mountain, we noticed that it started to turn heads of passers-by, and we knew we had a winning solution.
Tell us about an unexpected challenge or setback, if there was one.
We thought the game was fully balanced, and toward the very end of development, we realized that there was a dominant strategy in focusing on the hazard dice. This was disheartening because we had all spent an inordinate amount of time play testing and balancing everything, and were shocked that we had missed the problem. We tried countless solutions to fix this problem, and they all were either too cumbersome, felt bad, or unbalanced the game in other ways. Until one day Niko came up with the simplest, most elegant solution: don’t allow magic to reroll hazards. (Until this change, you could use magic to re-roll anything.) This immediately balanced the strategies, while simultaneously making hazards more scary and thematic!
Was there any lesson from this game that you'll apply to future projects?
Because it is a design in collaboration, we set a rule to meet each other on a regular basis and stick to it, as well to do our best to complete the main design in six months, which we achieved [with this game in particular].
What's your favorite component or piece of art?
The mountain is what makes Dice Miner unique and we cannot wait to play with the final version as well as the deluxe version.
Thanks, Josh and Niko! To learn more about Dice Miner, be sure to visit the game's Kickstarter campaign page.