Interview of Robert Burke of Robert Burke Games

Hello Robert.  Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. First off, tell us a little about yourself and your career as a game designer?

I’m just a guy who love games and loves to create stuff. Game design is not my career; it’s just a passion that I love. And that’s fine with me.

Not only are you a game designer, but you have a video blog?  Tell us a little bit about that.

I have done some videos that I post on BGG called “When To Play.” It’s nothing serious, but I started doing them only because I think many reviewers don’t tell us much more than what their own personal tastes are. I believe it’s more valuable to tell people what niche a game fits and within what social situations a game can shine. That’s what I’m trying to do with the series, but really I’m just stumbling through the dark and having fun.

You have several game designs under your belt.  Just to name a few – The tile-laying, creature building game, Cartoona, the card game, Battle For Souls, and the storytelling family game, Gnomes: The Great Sweeping of Ammowan.  What do you think this reflects of you as a gamer?

All my games start out as an idea, and each idea springs from some passion I have. For Cartoona, it was my art, for Gnomes, it was story adventures I made up for my kids. Battle For Souls was inspired by my love of art history, the writings of CS Lewis and visits to the Vatican. For me, it has to start with a passion for the theme. Only after a passion spurs an idea do I start to think about mechanics. I am not a designer who will be known for a certain mechanic, or a single theme, or even a single genre. It’s a passion for the theme that leads me where I need to go. That’s why my games are very different from one another. This is not the smartest way to go from a business perspective, because the people who enjoyed my last game may not be the right audience for my next one. But it’s not business success that drives me, it’s a love of the process and a passion for the idea.

You seem to have a knack for interesting family-friendly games.  When you started out, was that in your vision?

No. Cartoona came from my art. I have painted these cartoon creatures for decades. And they have always been done with an automatic drawing technique. I developed a vocabulary of different creature body parts, so when I draw a creature, I don’t think about what I will draw, I just put together different parts from this “alphabet” I have created. Cartoona was a way for me to make a game so people could experience creating cartoon creatures like I do. You never know what you will get, and sometimes they make you smile. The art and the mechanics just lent themselves to being a family game. I did not set out to make a family game; it became one as I developed it. Gnomes is a family game because I developed it for my own kids. It started as a way to inspire their imaginations and grew into a story that I wanted to share. Again, it was not planned, but rather evolved into what it is. I don’t ever want to force my designs, I want them to emerge.

Tell us a little but about your effort with Arkham Horror designer, Richard Launius – Draco Magi?  How was it working with Richard?

 Working with Richard has been great. He’s a game design veteran who has taught me a ton. We met at Dice Tower Con 1, but really hit it off at Gnomecon in Savannah. I had a card game I was working on at Gnomecon that grew from my love of dragons, and it was a good abstract strategy game. The goal was to make it a simple game with deep strategy. A brain burner. Richard played it and liked it, but he said something that was an epiphany for me. He said, “Robert, the mechanic is solid, but I don’t feel like dragons are fighting.” And you know what, he was right. Now, I understood this was a true legendary designer of thematic games, so I took that comment to heart. I had gotten away from what inspired this game, DRAGONS, and instead was focusing on proving I could make a “smart” strategy game. So, Richard and I spoke at length, I gave him a prototype and we have been working on it together ever since.  The collaboration has done wonders for the game and for my growth as a designer. I can tell you this, every part of the game is driven by the theme now, and you really get the sense of dragons fighting. And we did not have to give up the strategic elements to do so.

Tell us a little about your latest project, The Offensive Band Name Generator?

Well music is a HUGE passion for me. I’ve played in bands and I have been writing a playlist column for Yahoo! Music for years. I also just signed on with Beats Music, which is Dr. Dre’s new streaming music service. I will be providing them with curated playlists. So music is a big part of my life. The Offensive Band Name Generator (OBNG) is a party game that evolved out of games I’ve played with band mates where we would come up with band names to fit some theme. Again, the passion sparked the idea, and the idea forged the game. It’s a riot to play, but is for mature audiences only.

The Offensive Band Name Generator seems to be a slight departure from your other games.  Further diversification?

No. All my games are a departure from my other games because it’s the idea that rises to the top that I work on, and I never know where the next one is coming from.

What is in your future plans?

Get the OBNG and Draco Magi published and then onto some new passions. Maybe my favorite book? It’s a great one, but I won’t say just yet.

This year, you are attending MACE in Charlotte, NC.  What do you look forward to the most at MACE this year?

I always look forward to playing games and meeting fellow gamers! I can’t wait to spend some time at a Con in my own back yard!