- BC Games
Board games are growing ‘leaps and bounds’
It’s branded as the Game of Hilarious Comparisons—and millions of board game players agree.
Apples to Apples is a board game from, at least in part, the mind of John Kovalic, a game creator and webcomic author who will be in Richmond next week. His latest offering is ROFL!, a party game about shortening phrases while still getting the message across.
Bejeweled it is not. Angry Birds? Uh uh. It’s a board game in a field that’s growing by “leaps and bounds,” says Kovalic.
“The fact that great board games like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Pandemic are pushing off those tired trivia games on shelves is a thing to be celebrated. Many people are having game nights with family and friends. The fact that a show like Wil Wheaton’s TableTop (web series about board games) can be such a huge hit online speaks to the renaissance in board and card gaming.”
The Madison, Wis. resident will be bringing his cards and playing pieces to Richmond for VCON 38, a Vancouver science fiction and fantasy convention running Oct. 4 to 6 at the Delta Vancouver Airport Hotel.
Kovalic is the event’s artist guest of honour. A co-founder and co-owner of Out of the Box Games, and a cartoonist for Steve Jackson Games, Kovalic has illustrated more than 100 games and game supplements. He also holds the distinction of being the first cartoonist inducted into the Game Manufacturers Association Hall of Fame.
He’s also the creator of Dork Tower, a comic strip that runs three times a week online and also runs in print. Its cast of characters include Carson the Muskrat and Gilly the Perky Goth “trapped in a world they never made, but are nevertheless striving to create a realistic yet playable simulation thereof.”
Recent strips have delivered yuks around selfies (Oxford made the act of photographing one’s self a word this summer), podcasting, gamers and Photoshop.
Dork Tower was born out of another comic strip Wild Life, which had a daily run in the Wisconsin State Journal. On his website, Kovalic shares the story of how he used the strip to propose to his girlfriend in 1996, a move that attracted the attention of The National Enquirer. A heart-shaped photo accompanied the headline: “Cartoonist pops the question—in his comic strip.”
Next weekend’s convention will also feature an art show and auction, vendors hall, author’s reading, 24-hour games rooms, book launches, workshops and dance party. Tickets to the full weekend are $30 to $60, or $11 to $33 for a single day. Registration is available at the door.
What have you been up to lately?
“Mostly, my new party game, ROFL! It was released a month ago, and the reviews have been great. Think of it as a ‘name that tune’ with popular phrases, or ‘the licence-plate game’ meets Apples to Apples. Or Pictionary with words. I’ve heard it described many different ways this last month. Fortunately, whatever the description, it’s always been accompanied by ‘the game is great,’ which makes me happy. But at any point in time, I always have lots of projects on the burners.”
How did you get into the business?
“I grew up reading cartoons and comic books, and drawing comics in the back of my notebooks in school. It just always seemed a natural way of telling a story. My comics were published in my school newspaper, and then the university newspaper, and then Madison’s local city newspapers. Getting into gaming depended on an absolutely bizarre series of coincidences that boil down to me name-checking Steve Jackson Games in an editorial cartoon, and them simply phoning up, asking me if I wanted to do some work for them.”
How did you conceive Dork Tower?
“Very quickly. 17 years ago, a gaming magazine called Shadis asked me if I wanted to come up with a comic strip for them. As the characters are all based on ether me or my gaming friends, it was an almost effortless thing. Like most gamers, my gaming nights can be utterly, insanely hilarious. This makes cartooning easy.”
How has the comic business changed over your career?
“It’s changed profoundly. I almost don’t recognize it anymore. I sold almost half a million comic books as an independent comic book company in the 2000s. I’m not sure I could do that again, if I were starting now. The next books I release will probably be done with Kickstarter backing—the money there isn’t as critical as the buzz a project can receive.”
Where does your sense of humour come from?
“From my parents, first and foremost. My cousin Terry and Uncle Rudy taught me how cool humour can be. Then, from growing up in England, and being exposed to The Goon Show, and the Pythons at a very early age.”
What are you most proud of?
“My daughter, and the fact that I have managed to create a career that lets me put her and my wife first, in my life. After I’m probably most proud of my work on Apples to Apples and Munchkin. With Apples to Apples, I’m proud to have helped create a game that changed party gaming, and became a huge international hit. With Munchkin, I’m proud to have drawn more than 4,000 cards for a game system I absolutely adore. I try to make each set look better than the last.”