Behind the Board: Danny Devine on Agropolis

Luke: Hey there folks, and welcome back to Behind the Board! This time around, we’re joined by Danny Devine, co-designer of the lauded Sprawlopolis and the currently Kickstarted… Kickstarting? …The sequel title that’s on Kickstarter, Agropolis!

Danny: You got there eventually.

Luke: [laughs] Pleasure to have you here, Danny.

Danny: Likewise. Glad to be here to talk a bit about Agropolis.

Luke: Ah, but first, let’s look back on the original wallet-game darling. Sprawloplis has been an incredible success over the last few years; how did the idea for the title come about?

Danny: The original idea came about after our first 18 card game, Circle The Wagons. We really liked the idea of the 3 unique scoring cards in each game and wondered if we could make a cooperative game that could use them as well. The first version of Sprawl was actually about building a pyramid but we soon realized it was a bit restrictive.

Luke: I can imagine. And it’s obvious that ya’ll did something right with that first release, considering the cavalcade of expansions that have been released and the outpouring of affection for it since.

Danny: It has been unreal, the fans of Sprawlopolis are amazing! It’s crazy seeing the number of plays it gets each month, the organized challenges where people post and check each other’s scores, and the forums where fans answer questions for new players. Thank you all for the support and for the thousands of cities you have all built!

Luke: And it looks like a lot more cities re going to be built in the near future, but this time in the country. How long has Agropolis been in the works?

Danny: I went and looked it up, the oldest prototype I could find was 5/31/2019. As you can see, it’s not as pretty as where we ended up. When we started, it had way too many animals, and scoring was nuts and super unbalanced…we also had pumpkins apparently.

Luke: It’s always fun to see how much designs grow and flourish over the course of the creation process. What about this design do you feel warranted making it into its own game rather than just another series of expansions for the original?

Danny: First off, Sprawl already has some really fun expansions, Beaches being my personal favorite.

Originally we discussed with Button Shy the possibility of just making holiday or themed versions of Sprawloplis, but as we talked we realized that the core of the game was solid enough that we could make standalone sequels that change the rules just a bit in order to open up ideas for new scoring goals and challenges. Kind of like how Ticket to Ride keeps finding ways to reinvent the core gameplay with each of their standalone expansions.

Luke: And I certainly think the game will benefit from this, especially in the long-term. What ideas did you try to capture here that the original didn’t or no longer could do to its design?

Danny: I would say the theme. We live in Reno, Nevada which has a lot of farms in the surrounding areas, so this game actually feels closer to home than Sprawl does. We took inspiration from places like Apple Hill, Napa Valley, and (let’s not kid ourselves) how creepy cornfields are!

Luke: In that vein, how do you feel Agropolis stands out from its predecessor?

Danny: The biggest shake-up, besides the theme (which we all fell in love with), is the Livestock. Each card contains 1 Livestock block, with up to 2 cows, chickens, or pig pens. This allowed us to make new scoring goals that could play off of different animals and numbers of pens which adds an extra layer of thought when placing your cards.

Luke: Yeah, I’ve definitely felt that tension of desperately waiting for a chicken card to score one of my goals.

Looking to the beautifully named Combopolis, how did you decide on such a slick manner to combine the 2 games into a single experience?

Danny: It was a goal from the very beginning of Agropolis; we knew that players were going to want a way to mix the games together, and the theme of city meets country was too fun to pass up. The implementation took a lot of work, though.

We started with no rule tweaks and just building a massive city. It looked cool but scoring it made you wish for death. It was actually Jason Tagmire, the founder of Button Shy, that proposed the much cleaner idea of one goal from each game, and 1 [from Combopolis]. That paired with the idea of using 1 card from either game each turn brought the idea home. It’s a really fun way to play the game.

Luke: It’s quite satisfying to put it all together. And speaking of new ways to play, for those looking for a new challenge, the “Feed Fee” mechanic makes the game really tough!

Danny: Yeah, we wanted to satisfy the hardcore Sprawloplis players, the ones that are sad when they beat a goal by more than 10 and really want that extra challenge (yes, they are out there and they are better at the game than I am!).

The need for this rule came down to math; depending on which other goals the Livestock goals are paired with, they can sometimes be easier. For example, a goal that requires pigs but no pigs appear on the backs of the other goal cards simply means you have more pigs to score off of in that game than others.

The “Feed Fee” rule was a way to adjust each game and make sure a skilled player in this situation would still need to make every one of those pigs count to make up the difference. Our goal was to mask this math problem in an adorable and easy to understand rule. So pretend I didn’t say any of that and just have fun feeding your cute little farm buddies; they look hungry!

Luke: [laughs] And I’m sure fans will be just as hungry for more Agropolis content down the road. Should we be expecting content for both titles moving forward, or has Sprawlopolis reached the end of its ever-winding highway?

Danny: I feel like I should just answer this one with a winky face emoji. Fans should expect more things to come from the “Opolis” family in the future, let’s just leave it at that before Button Shy hunts me down.

Luke: Is there anything in particular you hope players new and old feel when they get their hands of Agropolis?

Danny: I hope players feel clever. Both of these games are not easy to win, especially at first, but after a play or two, your brain starts to see plays you didn’t notice before. The first time you use a single card to connect a road, add to your base color bonus, and contribute to a goal is going to make you feel like the smartest city planner money can buy!

Luke: Before we end things off, are there any projects you’re currently working on that folks should keep an eye out for?

Danny: We are working with Button Shy again soon for a 2 player tactical area control game called Circle The Dragons (yes, we know were clever). I don’t think they have a date yet, but stay tuned! Outside of wallet land, I have a soon to be released tile-laying game called Kohaku and a classic feeling card game called Dragon Fruit on the horizon.

Luke: Awesome, thanks so much for taking the time to chat today, Danny. And thanks to all of you who stopped in to read up on Agropolis! Tune in next week for another exciting board game-related interview!

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