Interview with Shem Phillips – Garphill Games

In shining a spotlight on some of the people of the industry this week I got to interview the designer of one of my favourite games – Shem Phillips of Garphill Games, the designer of my favourite Raiders of the North Sea. Shem is also the designer of the rest of the North Sea trilogy (Shipwrights and Explorers being the others). Shem has just released the pre-order for the Solo Variant of Raiders of the North Sea, which you can pick up here. Shem is based in beautiful New Zealand, which to me doesn’t have a massive board game community, but I was wrong:

The New Zealand board gaming scene has been steadily growing, especially over the last ten years. We now how a number of board game conventions, including Wellycon and Board Games by the Bay, as well as a number of local game stores and board game cafes. I grew up playing a lot of the classics like Cluedo, Scrabble, Monopoly, etc. About eleven years ago I set out to design my own game. Soon after that I discovered the wonderful world of modern hobby games and quickly started designing more in that vicinity.

When I asked Shem about the success of the Northern Trilogy, he (very humbly) replies:

No way (was I expecting it). It was a total surprise when I first Kickstarted Shipwrights over four years ago. The immediate success was all thanks to the never-seen before art of The Mico. His comical, yet gritty style really helped to draw people in. The other key factors in its success is likely the easy-to-learn rule sets, interesting mechanics and of course, the fact that it’s a trilogy.

Now I have to agree, that the art of The Mico was fantastic, however I also think that it was the theme and particularly the game play that people feel for, check out the comments on the original Kickstarter and you will see plenty of satisfied customers and backers that were drawn to the game through it’s simple mechanics.

As for what he is currently working on:

I have already started on the second trilogy, set in the West Kingdom of Francia. The next two games in that series will be released over the following couple of years. Other than that, I have a few games signed by other publishers and some other products that I’m saving for Garphill.

You can find the BGG page for Architects of the West Kingdom here, with art by the Mico and the reputation of Shem’s Northern Trilogy, I dare say that this will be an automatic hit when it is released.

If Shem was stuck on a deserted island with another designer, a game and a prototype kit, he says that the other designer would be Sam McDonald (his co-designer for Architects of the West Kingdom) and with whom he has other games in the works with. As for the game he says that, when they aren’t designing and play-testing their own designs, that they would go for something co-operative, like Pandemic.

It’s always interesting to me as  to what games designers themselves would recommend to introducing players to the hobby of modern gaming. For his own designed games, Shem states that he would most likely recommend Raiders or Explorers of the North Sea. For games that are designed by others:

Azul, Codenames, Ticket to Ride, Asara, Pandemic, Citadels, For Sale, Kingdomino – I could go on! Games to steer clear of? I would just say, try not to overwhelm someone who’s just getting into the hobby. Give them time to learn a few basic mechanisms like card drafting, worker placement, action taking, etc.

Garphill Games can be found here

The new Solo variant pre-order for Raiders of the North Sea – is right here

Cameron B Author

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