Whew, we made it! This is the 52nd episode of the Rule Breaker Investing podcast, which of course means it's hit the one-year anniversary.
To mark this milestone, David Gardner, our host -- and a big-time card- and board-game enthusiast -- is taking a bit of a sideways trip to the markets. In this episode, he discusses five games that not only are monstrously fun to play, but also can help players better understand investing.
And no, the chosen games do not include the obvious make-piles-of-money titles like Monopoly or Life. Instead, David selects lesser-known games from his vast collection of 767 titles. (He itemizes the collection in a well-maintained Excel spreadsheet.)
A full transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on June 22, 2016.
David Gardner: And welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing. I'm David Gardner.
This is a very special episode of Rule Breaker Investing, for at least two reasons. The very first reason is that this is our 52nd Rule Breaker Investing podcast, and if you're doing the math with me, you recognize there are 52 weeks in the year, so this completes the first year of weekly podcasts done by me and my wonderful producer, Rick Engdahl.
And I would like to start this by thanking Rick for his extremely competent, Foolish, friendly, knowledgeable help. One thing that you don't know, if you're merely a Rule Breaker podcast investing listener, that Rick and I know, is that I screw up constantly. I'm constantly asking Rick every two or three minutes: "I may sound eloquent to you," but I'll say, "Rick I want to take that again," and I talk over that line.
Sometimes I do it three times in a row before I get it right, and Rick patiently, quietly, without ever complaining, edits all that and puts it together into this podcast that I hope you've enjoyed -- if not all 52 weeks, for at least one or two weeks so far this year if you're a new listener. But it's been a real pleasure, and Rick, I'm looking across the glass at you, thanking you very much for the wonderful work that you've done in our first year together.
So reason No. 1 that this is special is because this is the culmination of our first year, and when we do a podcast next week, it's going to be Rule Breaker June mailbag, so you know it's coming. That will start our second year of Rule Breaker Investing.
I would be remiss if I did not thank you, personally, whoever you are, for listening. For caring enough to tap in through iTunes, Spotify, or any one of a number of different hubs, and finding us. And yeah, maybe even sometimes giving us a nice review on iTunes, or telling your friends about us and what we're doing here at Motley Fool Podcasts, writ large, all five of which I enjoy. This one of the five, Rule Breaker Investing, started one year ago this month.
The second reason that this particular podcast is special is because I'm going off the reservation a little bit with this one. I did foreshadow this last week, so if you're a regular listener you've known something weird was going to happen this week, and indeed, it is, in two respects.
The first is we're going to talk board games probably a little bit more than investing, but in order to justify your listening, if you're not exactly interested in board games, I've called it my "My Five Favorite Board Games That Will Make You a Better Investor." So, yes, I am connecting this back to our core material.
Arguably -- and I'm open to you arguing this with me on Twitter, or direct by email at RBI@fool.com -- some of these ties between games and investing may be somewhat tenuous. Somebody who's looking meticulously at our work -- which I'm sure no one does -- hypothetically might see questionable connections occasionally being made between this favorite board game of mine and investing, but I hope to largely silence those skeptics and critics with some clear relationship between the two.
So that's one thing that's distinctive about this, this week, is that we're talking board games. But another distinctive thing is we're having an interviewee. A little later this podcast, I will be joined by the designer of one of my five favorite board games. His name is Rob Daviau, and I know you're going to enjoy my interview with Rob, which lasts about 10 minutes or so.
I want to mention as well, another Rule Breaking moment for this podcast. We are breaking new ground this week, because I enjoy Rob so much that I intend to have a longer conversation with him. Rob has graciously accepted a longer-form interview, and so for the first time, we'll have an extra here for our listeners at Rule Breaker Investing that will come out this Saturday.
So if you enjoy my talk a little bit later with Rob, and you're like, "That guy's cool -- I want to hear more about his life in business, and game design, and what's going on with him," then you're going to have that opportunity in a longer-form, 20-minute-or-so extra coming out this Saturday. I hope you'll enjoy that -- especially if you're a gamer, I know you'll enjoy that.
OK, let's talk board games.
Now, I do have a list of five favorite board games. Are these my favorite, favorite board games? No. I like very much at least each one of these games, and a couple of them might be my very favorite games, but my aim here is not to be the gamer telling you what the best games are, or what I like the most. My aim is to find games that do, in fact, reinforce or illustrate tenets or principles that also work in investing, and for that goal, these are my five favorites, at least as of now.
There are new games coming out every week, month, year. I may have mentioned before on this podcast that I own a lot of board games, so I know the games that are coming out. I care. I follow it. I care more about a game that's coming out this fall -- I care more about checking the schedule for that -- than I ever look for IPOs. It's kind of sad.
Perhaps you'd expect more of me -- this co-founder of The Motley Fool and the stock-picker guy. You'd probably think I'm out there searching all the time to see what the next great thing is coming public on the stock market. Occasionally I do that, but I care even more about what the next great board game is. For some of you that's a sad admission and, for some of you, perhaps even a sillier, even glorious admission.
That's kind of where my head is. I love games. I have 767 card and board games at home. I know that number because they are in a spreadsheet on which I simply keep, alphabetically, all the games that I have, and occasionally I kick out games and delete them from my spreadsheet. Why do I have so many games? I'm not a collector. I'm not somebody who wants to have a board-game collection that I have to give away at the end of my life. I'm not going to put it in a museum anywhere. It's definitely not worthy of any museum, unless it's a really geeky museum.
It's just that I love games. When I pick stocks, I'm surrounded by games. In my study at home, I have these card and board games on shelves all around me. I like to feel that I'm in a game. I think investing is a great game. I think business is a great game. Full of winners and losers. It's not always competitive. It's as much a cooperative game. But when you win the games of investing in business, you really win. You really win for your family and for the choices you can make in life.
And speaking of life, I think life is a great game. Now, if you know the game of Life -- the one with little pink and blue pawns with a spinner -- that's not such a good game. I don't think that's a very good game. I'm talking about the other life -- the other life, the one that you and I are living. I think that's a great game, and I do believe that it's more of a cooperative game than a competitive game, and those who get it, and have some fun winning at that, are some of the happiest people I know.
Enough blabbing about games and what games mean to me. We're going to go alphabetically through this list: "My Five Favorite Board Games That Will Make You a Better Investor." Now for each of these, I'm going to say the name, briefly explain what the game is and how it works, and then tenuously connect it to investing. And because we have that interview with Rob Daviau coming up, I'm going to be a little quicker with these. Of course, I'd love to say a lot. I can say a lot more about each of these games, but I realize I may not even be speaking to people who like games, so I don't want to waste too much of your time.
Let's get going. The first one up alphabetically of "My Five Favorite Board Games That Will Make You a Better Investor" -- let's go with Acquire. Now, Acquire is decades old. It was designed by an American game designer named Sid Sackson. It's one of those games that a lot of us may well have played. Other games that are not on my list today -- games like Monopoly and Risk -- these are games that in America, at least, have had currency for decades. Even if you don't think of yourself as a gamer, you might well have sat down to a table playing Risk or Monopoly. Acquire -- not quite as big a name as those two games, but still one that came out as kind of a hotel-chain theme game.
Essentially how this game works is that each of us playing has a little tile rack in front of us -- kind of like Scrabble tiles, except rather than have letters, these tiles have a letter and a number, which is like a coordinate on a grid. So if you have A4, you have the tile that fits on A4 on the grid.
It's bigger than a chessboard. It's kind of a large grid. And as you lay down your tiles, which we do -- we go around the table and we each lay down a tile -- you're basically building hotel chains. And after you lay down a tile, you're allowed to buy stock. Anybody seeing the connection to being a better investor with this one? Good, because this is the most overt of the five.
You're buying stock in that hotel chain, and then when somebody else places another tile right next to yours, that hotel chain grew and your stock goes up. It becomes more valuable. And so it's a tile-laying game. If you're a gamer, you know the tile-laying genre. There are a number of really great tile-laying games. If you're not as much a gamer, a lot of people don't even know what a tile-laying game is, as a genre, but this is a great and very early, decades-old example of it.
So you're tile-laying and growing the value of the corporations. Then you buy the shares. You have some money and you're buying shares. You know where some of the corporations are going to grow, because you've got your tile rack in front of you, so you can see the future. You can see where some of the growth can be, but you don't know what I'm about to do, etc.
And one of the fun concepts that I really appreciate about Acquire, before I go to our next one, is that typically the way to win Acquire is by buying a lot of shares, not of the biggest hotel chains, but by buying a lot of shares of one of the smaller ones, because what happens in the game is as a smaller chain starts getting near a bigger one on the game board, as we build them closer to each other, whoever lays down a tile that actually connects those two to each other just caused the equivalent of a merger in the game.
And as is true in stocks in real life -- maybe you heard something about LinkedIn in the last four weeks or so -- the companies that get bought out are bought out sometimes at really nice premiums, and so the people who really make money are, in the case of LinkedIn, the LinkedIn investors. The people who don't necessarily make as much money but now own LinkedIn are the Microsoft investors, and that's true in this board game.
So this board game is very evocative of mergers and buyouts. Of owning shares. It's very accessible. It's not complicated. It's one of those games that has about three or four pages of rules. A lot of people have played it growing up in families. It might be part of the reason I'm glad we're doing this podcast this week, because it's summer. Summertime, beach. Beach, summer equals board games, at least for some of us. Maybe you'll have an opportunity to purchase or buy this game, but I like Acquire a lot. It's pretty simple mechanisms, and I would highly recommend it to anybody. I find it very accessible for kids 12 and up.
And before we move to our next one, what's the relationship to making you a better investor? I think I just covered at least three points, but very explicitly, it's about buying shares, and watching those shares go up, and buying and selling. It's a business simulation, which is always helpful. And a third one is just, it has you, very much, trying to value things. You have money, but you could buy any one of the hotel chains on the board, so you're having to think about how much you would pay for this one versus that one. Again, of my five games here this week, this is the one that most obviously helps you be a better investor.
No. 2 is a game called Dominion. Now again, for gamers, for people who might even spend some time on my second favorite website -- I think you know what my favorite website is, but my second favorite website is actually BoardGameGeek.com, and each of these games has a page on BoardGameGeek.
BoardGameGeek is kind of like a database. With every game that was ever made it has a page, and on that page there's everything from pictures of the game, reviews of the game, discussion-board forum questions about the game. People pin up videos of themselves playing the game. It's like a magnet site for any game, even going back thousands of years to the game Go, and you may remember recently a computer beat the best human in the world at Go. That game has a page on BoardGameGeek, and so does each one of these games.
Dominion came out about 10 years ago or so, and it contained an important innovation -- deck building. It's called a deck-building game. That means that you start with a small deck of cards. You draw a hand from your own personal deck, and it's identical to my deck. You and I start with the same 10 cards. We shuffle them up and we draw five cards, and our decks are identical.
But one of the things you do with your hand of cards is you buy new cards that are out there on the table that are a common pool that all of us could buy. You buy new cards and add them to your deck. You put them in your discard pile, but when it comes time to redraw and you're out of a deck, you need to shuffle up that discard pile, and out come the new cards that you've been buying.
I'm doing the same thing, and so what happens is we're playing the game together, but we end up with different decks. I won't go into, because we don't have time this week, how to score the game or the strategy, but the key innovation here is deck-building. You are literally building your own deck of cards over the course of our 30- to 60-minute play session, trying to outscore me, and one of the really cool innovations that Dominion has brought as well is that the cards available for purchase, each game, change.
So if you just buy the base set, this is a game that has expansions. Oh, boy, does Dominion have expansions. Probably about 10 or so expansions, so you can buy lots more cards. But just the base game has about 25 different types of cards. They come in little packs of 10 each, so you can buy more than one of them. But in a given game of Dominion, of those 25 different sets of 10 cards, you only play with 10 of them. So each game you mix and match. You can choose which ones you want to play with, or you can randomize, and so you end up with incredible replay-ability, even just from the base game for this deck-building game.
So Dominion -- one of my favorite games. I think our family has probably played this game, together, more than any other. My kids now -- at least one of them has graduated from college -- are kind of at the latter stage of being a board-gaming family with little kids around the table. We're not so little anymore. So looking back, now, over 10 or 15 years, we probably played Dominion more than any other.
Now, I bet you're wondering, "Dave, I hear you and I don't quite know what you're talking about. Deck-building sounds interesting, but how does that make me a better investor?"
Well, this is obviously not a game that is replicating anything about the stock market. In fact, Dominion is themed kind of a generic medieval fantasy theme. The cards that you're buying and selling are things like a castle, or a troubadour, or a mercenary. So it looks more like a medieval card game set up on a table.
But what I love about Dominion that we all benefit from as Rule Breaker investors is I love the mixing and matching of the different card sets and replay-ability that happens. And what I'm seeing all the time in the business world is I'm seeing people come up with brand-new ways to approach old questions.
I remember at some point in the last year on this podcast I mentioned the book The Medici Effect, which is an excellent book, and it tells us all about how the Medici family, and really Florence, back in the Renaissance, was an incredible melting pot of so many different cultures, often very commercially focused. People from all around the world -- artists -- all gathering and bumping up against each other. Odd cultures and the mixes and things that grew from that.
That's really what starts a lot of businesses today, are those kinds of crazy ideas that somebody had to start something, and it's a new thing that succeeds. And the internet is making it possible for us to be exposed to other new ideas, or tropes, or people, and what's coming of that is incredibly creative. There's a whole creative class emerging from that.
So when I think about Dominion, I love the combinatorial factors of playing with lots of different cards every single time, and I think it opens your mind to rule-breaking possibilities and seeing new ideas and new strategies emerging all the time. I think that's at least helpful for me or you as a businessperson, and since Warren Buffett said "I'm a better businessperson because I'm an investor," and vice versa, I hope you see the connection.
Next up is the game of Innovation. This is one of my favorite games. I love this game, but I will admit I can't often get all of my family members to play this game with me. It's either because I'm so good at it that they won't dare take me on, but I suspect that's not actually the case, because I don't necessarily often win this game. I think it's just because we have so many games.
But I love the game of Innovation. Innovation is a card game. It takes you through the 10 eras of human life. The first era is basically the Stone Age. The innovations -- the cards in the deck of the Stone Age -- are things like the wheel. So you play through a full game of Innovation with piles of cards from different eras representing innovations that occurred in those eras. You are building up your own tableau in front of you.
Now, your goal in the game is to accomplish a certain number of achievements. And achievements typically happen in two ways. The first is that you're just racking up more points, because these cards have point values, and you're just doing that in front of you. But the other is to accomplish certain goals -- for example, that you can have the most cards in one of the five colors of suits. That's not actually one of the achievements of the game, but it's kind of like that.
So there's a point-scoring mechanism, but then there's also a set-collection mechanism. And I just love the feeling of progressing over the course of human history and seeing all the innovations spill out. Each one of them is a unique card and has a unique game effect. This, of my five games, probably is the most gamer's game of them all, so you really have to like games, and card games, and be willing to read through rules and understand it, because every single card has its own little rule that it makes or breaks. It's a game most suitable for people who really like a little bit of a deeper, more complex card game. Now I know you're out there, I know you're listening to me, and I'm like you in this regard. So I love the game of Innovation.
How does this make me a better investor? Well, just connecting and seeing all of these innovations. If you just think about the importance of invention in human history, you really fast-forward. And we've talked about this on this podcast over the last year. You think about how there's more accelerating innovation happening this year than, in some cases, hundred-year periods of the past. I mean, we're really scaling and ramping at a rate that is breathtaking when you look at the number of innovations.
I was just writing my Rule Breaker introductory column the other day for the Rule Breakers service, and I was reflecting on three things: Olli, which is a fully 3-D printed bus that is capable of carrying 12 people around. It is an autonomous driving machine directed by IBM's Watson interface. It is operating, presently, in National Harbor, just across the river from Alexandria, Va., where Fool HQ is based. 3-D printed.
By extreme contrast, but also happening this year, I read the story of Stan Larkin. If you haven't heard of Stan, he's a guy who had a genetic heart problem. In his teens it was already recognized that he could have heart failure at any moment, so the decision was to remove his heart, which they did, and Stan awaited a transplant for more than a year. More than a year. Five hundred fifty-five days it took him before he did, successfully, happy ending, get a heart transplant.
But what did Stan do in the meantime for 555 days? Wearing a backpack, he had a pump that did for his body what his heart would have done otherwise, but this is a living, breathing, successful, and, I assume, happier human being walking around near you, out there in the world, with no heart for 17 months. That is truly remarkable.
Or how about something slightly sillier, but even more dangerous, arguably, and that would be the latest work from the scientist whose real-life work inspired the Jurassic Park novels and movies. And if you just Google the phrase "chickenosaurus," you'll see what he's up to for real today. Crazy, maybe. We'll see.
I just think about all of the innovations. And one thing I love about the card game Innovation, of course, that I think helps all of us be better investors is to wake up to all of the innovation out there. Be open to it. Think about how it changes things. The card game does a good job replicating that.
And No. 4. No. 4 -- alas, I'm going to apologize ahead of time. If you feel motivated to buy any of these games, I love it. Great. I wish Rule Breaker Investing had a sponsorship from a game store this week, but we don't. But if you do, I apologize ahead of time. This is the one that you probably won't find, or if you do, it's at some crazy high price because it's not in print anymore. It's a game called Modern Art by Reiner Knizia.
Reiner Knizia is one of the foremost game designers of our time. Reiner is a German expat living in the U.K. today. He is one of the few people in the world who has made a full-time job of game design. We've gotten to know Reiner some over the years. He's just a peach of a guy. He's come to Fool HQ and led some game sessions here, because we're very open to any game designer who wants to come and spend some time here at the Motley Fool headquarters. We have a lot of gamers here. Anyway, we did connect with Reiner that way over the years.
What I love about Modern Art is it's a game in which you and I are bidding on each other's paintings. So you have a hand of cards, and it's paintings, and it's kind of silly paintings, if you've ever been one of those who makes a joke about how a "so-called painting" -- some modern art that's just a green dot, off center and nothing else -- can fetch $5 million in a Sotheby's auction.
If you have that arguably slightly Foolish cynicism in you, then you'll be humored by the game of Modern Art, because you have a hand of paintings that are kind of like that. You lay one down, and everybody else around the game bids for your painting. So this is one of the bidding games out there. Earlier I mentioned Acquire is a tile-laying game. I mentioned Dominion is a deck-building game. If you're not a gamer, these are new mechanisms that we didn't really grow up with. That didn't really exist so much in popular culture if you're playing games.
This is another similar thing. A bidding and auction game. There are a lot more bidding games out there, where you are valuing things that are put out on the table, and one fun aspect of Modern Art is that there are only five or six suits of cards, and each one of them is a modern artist. So if you start laying down a card from the same artist I do, that creates, just like it would in real life, popularity and buzz, and so all of a sudden people start paying more for the second painting, the second card laid out from this suit than for the first one, and even more for the third than the second.
It kind of simulates what happens in the market at large, which is my connection, by the way, to investing. The popularity -- sometimes the hype -- that pops up just because something starts looking popular and other people start buying it is very much alive in that game of Modern Art.
Again, not an easily attainable game. There are other good bidding and auction games out there, but because this one is near and dear to my heart -- we've owned it since 1999, I think, when it came out -- this is a wonderful strategy game. Reiner Knizia has other auction and bidding games, and if you're really motivated, you can go to BoardGameGeek.com and start searching, and you'll find some more that are purchasable today. But it is that dynamic, again, of trying to value things, and watching hype cycles within a single 60-minute board game, that I think you and/or friends or family would enjoy together, and it's not just present in that game. It's there in some others.
I'll mention, on the side, there's a game called Ra by Reiner Knizia which is also one of his auction and bidding games. It doesn't quite feel as businessy or as investor-oriented because it's set in ancient Egypt, but if you are interested in this kind of game, that is a lot more purchasable. I think you'll find that on [Amazon.com] and other gaming sites. So that's No. 4.
And then, finally, No. 5 -- and No. 5 is the one with an interview attached to it, because it's Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. That is the name of the game -- Pandemic Legacy -- and before I introduce Rob Daviau, who is the designer of that game, I just want to briefly explain a little bit about why I like this game and how it connects to investing.
So one thing that's really cool in board games in the last 10 or 15 years that was not there when I was a wee whippersnapper 30 or 40 years ago is there are a lot more cooperative board games today, and a lot of people don't expect that. When they think of a board game, they think about losing, or beating their brother in Parcheesi, or having a miserable time trying to learn bridge from their uncle, or something like that. The truth is while you may have lost or not had good experiences in competitive situations, there are a lot of games, today, that are not about beating up on all the people around the table. Again, those are fun games, too.
But as it turns out, there's a whole emergent genre of cooperative board games, and one of the prime examples in the last decade is a game called Pandemic. Now again, I know many of you, I bet, have played Pandemic. I hope you've seen it or played it -- a game designed by Matt Leacock and a very commercially successful game in the geeky world of board games. A game where you, and your friends around the table, are trying together to beat the game.
The theme, of course, of Pandemic is an epidemic -- a disease that threatens to end life on Earth. There are a few different strains of that disease, and you all need is to stamp it down and eliminate it. Eradicate it from the board in front of you, which is simulating planet Earth. So if you know what a Risk board looks like, where you have every country represented, that's kind of what a Pandemic board looks like. You see all the countries out there along with their capital cities. Disease is breaking out in those cities, and you need to cooperate together, each playing a different role, to end that disease.
So it's a great thematic, but on its own, Pandemic, a game I very much like, isn't quite as great as what came after it, and that's Pandemic Legacy. Pandemic Legacy added a new innovation, the legacy innovation, an innovation we're going to be talking about very shortly that changes the nature of some games.
And most simply, what Legacy does is each game session that you play makes the past matter for the future. So Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 -- that's the game -- you can buy it on Amazon. It's now the No. 1-rated game, and I'll be talking about this with Rob, on BoardGameGeek -- considered, in some senses, therefore, the greatest game of all time right now.
When you play your first game, whatever happens then matters and carries over to the second time you play. And the third time you play. And you find yourself ripping up cards, in some cases. The game instructs you to do this. If you win game three, you unlock, open up a little box that had been closed that has new pieces, new components that change the rules of the game for game four. You play through the first season, almost like a television show, with 12 to 20 or so sessions of this game with your same game group over time, so the concept of Legacy is fascinating.
How does that connect to investing? Well, we're nothing if we're not long-term. As any regular Rule Breaker knows, I don't like the phrase "long-term investing," because it's a tautology. As investors, by nature we are long-term. And I love the legacy format of games -- Pandemic Legacy being the best example so far. You're all about the long term. What you do, now, matters for the next time you play the game. And that connection from one session to the next -- or, if you're an investor, from one year to the next -- compounding returns, all of those things really play out in a most interesting way, thanks to this legacy format, and especially Pandemic Legacy.
I'm cutting myself a little bit short there, because as presaged earlier in this podcast, we have the designer of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 and some other fine board games as well, Rob Daviau. Rob, a pleasure to have you join Rule Breaker Investing this week.
Rob Daviau: Thanks for having me.
Gardner: Rob, I want to ask you first. How did you dream up the legacy format? My own familiarity, I think, started with Risk Legacy. I think you were working with Hasbro at the time. I'm pretty sure Risk is a Hasbro brand.
Gardner: You were working on Risk Legacy. How did the idea come to you?
Daviau: The idea came, actually, for the game of Clue. I was working at Hasbro. I worked there for 14 years. We were doing a brainstorm, and I said, "I don't know why they keep inviting these mass murderers to dinner. Like, week after week."
Daviau: And it was sort of this moment of "Wait. We make so many assumptions about games. Like you start at the beginning, and there's always one winner." This just became a thing of "Wait a second. Why does a game have to start over every single time?" There's a lot of things that don't. TV shows don't. Comic books don't. Role-playing games don't. Board games always reset back to start, but the players who are playing them don't. You start playing and you start saying, "Oh, don't let Bill do this and don't let Jim do that." So I thought, "Isn't there a way for a board game to pick up, a little bit, where it left off?" That eventually led to Risk Legacy and then Pandemic Legacy.
Gardner: Rob, you make it sound as if it's a common-sensical, matter-of-fact thing, but I'm picturing you, the game designer, sitting underneath a tree and a coconut dropping up from on high and hitting you on the head, and it hadn't hit any other game designer, I think, in the history of humanity, at least as I know it, up until that moment when it hit you. Did you get hit by something at the time? I mean, you're making it sound like it's pretty obvious, but you actually broke the rules here.
Daviau: I did. It wasn't obvious, but I knew it at the moment I said that. My boss is a big gamer. I said, "What if the game didn't go all the way back to Start? What if some of the things you did carried through?" He was taking down a whole bunch of ideas, and he looked at me, and I looked at him, and we were like, "Wait a minute. This is kind of a big thing." I didn't know exactly what that meant.
It took about a year before I could figure out how to do it, and a lot of the time in that year was getting up the courage to make the changes in the game permanent. To put a sticker on the board. To rip up a card. To write something. To make it a permanent one-way trip. That took a bit of nerve, and I had to steel myself up into doing it.
Gardner: We're going to talk about Pandemic Legacy in a sec, but a lot of us have played Risk. Even a fair number of -- I'll use the phrase "non-gamers" might have had some experience with Risk over the course of their lives. I know you did, Rob, as a longtime gamer. Before Risk Legacy, what was your favorite aspect of the game of Risk? And what's been your least favorite feeling about the game of Risk?
Daviau: It's almost the same thing. Risk is like this little Skinner box experiment about how well people react to wild swings of luck and people stabbing you at the last minute. So if you get that swing of luck where you just roll -- like you go into a battle that you shouldn't win and you get the right end of the bell curve -- it's this sort of exhilarating feeling that you either held out in this great defense or won a battle against odds. And if you're on the other side of it, and the person who you thought was your ally turns around and attacks you and rolls over you, and you roll poorly, [there are] highs and lows in that moment. Risk is a game that makes people very, very mad.
Gardner: [Laughs] In fact, it's probably turned off some people almost permanently from the industry, because people who are not into that, or not as competitive, probably they got sat down to a Risk board at some point, had that experience, and maybe even swore off the whole genre.
Daviau: I can see that. It came out in '59, and it did many new things, but one of the things that it did was just allow for some cutthroat play. Yes, if you weren't a gamer, and you sat down to Risk, and then you found yourself eliminated half an hour in because your best friend who asked you to play -- your boyfriend, your girlfriend, whatever -- you'd be like, "I don't like games. I'm not into this." I mean, it's pretty hardcore.
Gardner: And selfishly, I have to ask you. At some point, my high school son, Zack, this most recent school year had an extra copy kicking around the household -- which is not uncommon in our household -- of Risk Legacy. I all of a sudden noticed him having three or four friends over, maybe Friday nights after school, and playing and getting a fair way, so far, through Risk Legacy. He's not finished it yet. I think he might be winning -- I'm not really sure -- but how could I not ask the designer, the mind behind this game, for a tip. No spoilers, because we know stuff can pop up as a surprise. No spoilers. But could you just give Zack one bit of advice about trying to beat his friends at Risk Legacy?
Daviau: Well, the trick to Risk, in general, is to really convince everyone that you're not winning, which is harder in Risk Legacy, because there's a lot of evidence that you are winning. But if two other people are fighting, then you are winning, because they are both losing people and you are not.
So a lot of what happens in Risk is above the table, where you try to convince people to attack each other. "Yeah, I know I won a past game, but I'm not winning now. I'll just stay back here. You get him and I'll just hang out, and then we'll be cool." And you get everyone else to fight sort of at your feet.
Gardner: That is outstanding advice. Rob, do you think that that works outside of the game of Risk? Is that a life strategy that I've just heard?
Daviau: It's a pretty cruel one, but yeah. I would say actually it is. If two people are fighting and someone's going to lose, don't be one of the two, if possible.
Gardner: OK, enough Risk. Let's talk about Pandemic Legacy. This is a game that was designed by Matt Leacock as Pandemic, a success certainly. For a lot of people, again, who may not be as into board games as we are, they don't even realize there are such things as cooperative board games, where you can actually sit around the table and be playing with all the people around the table. Very family-oriented. In particular in the case of Pandemic, you're trying to save the world from a horrible epidemic disease or actually a few different strains. Now, did you pitch Matt on this idea? Did he pitch you? How did Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 come to be?
Daviau: Matt approached me. I had left Hasbro about a year before, and Risk Legacy had made some waves in the board-game industry. As you said, it was a little different. I just got an email saying, "Would you like to try to do this legacy thing with Pandemic?" I just wrote the word "yes," in, I think, 200-point, email, and that was the only thing I sent back.
So we gave it a try. Neither of us expected it to do as well as it has, but something about the cooperative nature, where it's everyone against the game -- but there are, like, 12 different episodes in this season -- it's been really compelling for people.
Gardner: As I may have mentioned earlier, this game is now the No. 1-rated game of all time on BoardGameGeek, which for geeky people like me is the magnet site for board games today. I'm thinking, Rob, even as ambitious as you might have been at the time and as good a partner as you had in Matt, you are maybe even surprised by how well received it's been.
Daviau: Shocked beyond belief. It's more than surprised. I was like, "OK, this is kind of a crazy idea. It worked with Risk. Let's see if it works here. I'm starting my own company. This is kind of a gamble I can take, doing something radical here." Then I turned around, and it was like, "Oh, wow. This is doing very well." Then actually on Jan. 1 of this year it hit No. 1, and I owe Matt a bottle of wine because I bet it wouldn't.
Gardner: Wow. And out of curiosity, I know, Rob, you operate from western Massachusetts. Is Matt in the hood somewhere? How did you guys collaborate?
Daviau: He is in the Bay Area, and we do a lot of video calls, ranging from an hour to four hours. We share screens, and we have a Google Drive with files. It's just a lot of face-to-face talking through a screen.
Gardner: How hard is it to play-test something where you don't really know how each individual group is going to play the game? All of a sudden, nine games in, they're doing something that is all affected by something that happened six games earlier, and you're trying to balance it out so people feel rewarded and, unlike the game Risk, isn't swinging wildly out of their control. How hard has it been to play-test a legacy-format game?
Daviau: It's been kind of a delightful nightmare. Sometimes delightful, sometimes nightmare. What we did with Pandemic Legacy, which has worked great, is we have each group videotape every minute of their play-test session, and then we watch those and take notes.
Daviau: So even if something goes off the rails, we can go back to see game three, where it went, and usually our notes will say, "Oh, they played something wrong," or "we'll see how this decision plays out." We'll get three or four groups to play through the entire campaign, or as far as we've designed, and then we spend hours watching, and then taking notes, and then weeks fixing it. Then we send out another three or four games to different groups. We just keep repeating that until we have something we like.
Gardner: Rob Daviau, it's been a real pleasure connecting here through Rule Breaker Investing. It's not every week we talk board games on this podcast, but I suspect, because I know there was some excitement about this interview ahead of time, that maybe we'll have some occasion in the future to talk a little bit more about board games in our second year of Rule Breaker Investing than we did in our first.
But Rob, a real pleasure to connect with you. Let me give you an opportunity to plug something, because I know, and I know you know, but not everybody knows, that the very first game is being created that is purely a legacy-format game. Because, after all, we've been talking about Risk Legacy, while Risk was already a game. We talked Pandemic Legacy. Pandemic was already a game. But you are coming out with a game that is -- I've pre-ordered more than one copy -- SeaFall. Briefly talk about SeaFall and maybe even give a hint as to when it's going to be out.
Daviau: SeaFall is a game that took me like three years to make. It is a legacy game, so when you play it, you get a group together, and one game leads to the next. And it's basically Indiana Jones in the 17th century.
So each one of you plays the leader of a province. You're trying to amass the most glory. You go out to sea. You explore islands. You find mysterious things. You rate each other's provinces. You build buildings. You burn each other's buildings down. You buy treasures. And basically it's this ongoing development of this age of exploration that takes place over 15 games, each one about two hours long until the end. Whoever has amassed the most glory becomes the emperor of all the land and sea.
It is a wonderfully ambitious game. It's got, like, a 60-page, 400-entry chapter book, which gives you the history of this world, and it will be out in August or September. Probably September, let's say, just to be safe. You can pre-order it now on the PlaidHatGames website, which I'd appreciate, and then it will be delivered to you in September.
Gardner: Wonderful. So that's PlaidHatGames, which is publishing Rob's SeaFall design. If you are a gamer, and especially if you're a legacy gamer, this is a great development, I think, for games. Rob, it's a real pleasure to speak with a fellow Rule Breaker this week. Keep breaking the rules and Fool on!
Daviau: Thank you.
Gardner: All right, there you have it, and you heard from one of my favorite game designers. You also heard "My Five Favorite Board Games That Will Make You a Better Investor." If you heard something new, and you feel motivated to go out and get one of these, I think that's great, because there's never enough gaming happening in this world.
One of the things that I do within Fool HQ -- I don't actually use this word -- but I'm kind of a game-vangelist within Motley Fool Headquarters. I'm not the only one. We have a lot of gamers and fans at the Fool. In fact, a lot of excitement internally when we discussed the idea that we might have Rob Daviau on this show, which we have, from some serious Daviau fans at the Fool.
So there we have it. "My Five Favorite Board Games That Will Make You a Better Investor." And I want to remind you, in closing, that I have a longer-form interview with Rob coming up. It will come out on iTunes and Spotify, etc., this Saturday.
And next week on Rule Breaker Investing -- yes, it's that time of the month. It's Mailbag time, so I look forward to your questions and comments. In fact, I have pre-taped it, because I will be technically away from Fool Headquarters. We'll be off on summer break, so I already know which questions you're going to be asking. In fact, you don't need to ask any this week if you don't want to, because I've already taped the show -- and it's a good one.
I'm looking forward to starting the second year of Rule Breaker Investing with you. Thank you. See you then. Fool on!
David Gardner owns shares of Amazon.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com and Hasbro. The Motley Fool owns shares of LinkedIn and Microsoft. The Motley Fool recommends Sotheby's. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.