You may Have Played Herbaceous, but Where Did it Begin for Designer Steve Finn?

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10 March 2022
The creator of Herbaceous and Sunset Over Water on his monasterial 2007 debut, Biblios

Interview by Dan Jolin, originally appearing in issue 60 of Tabletop Gaming Magazine

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“I’m a philosophy professor, and a very defining feature of my life is that I was an Ultimate Frisbee player; I’m a five-time national champion. I grew up playing traditional American board games with my family, but I didn’t discover European strategy games until I was in my thirties living in Seattle, when I bought a game by Michael Schacht called Web of Power. I played it a thousand times. A couple of years after that, I said, ‘You know what? I should try to design a game.’ And the first I designed was Scriptorium – which I changed to Scripts and Scribes after I discovered there was already a game called Scriptorium, and which was later published under the name of Biblios by Iello.”


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“I studied medieval philosophy at graduate school – it wasn’t my area but I always found it interesting. I also watched BBC murder-mysteries, and there was one my wife and I were really into around that time called Cadfael, with Derek Jacobi. So I said, ‘I’ll make a game about medieval books.’ It’s really as simple as that.”



“I didn’t think of who might want to play it at all. Seriously, it was just like: ‘I want to make a game. What can I do?’ I liked auctions, for example like Medici. And I may have stolen the card-drafting mechanic from Reiner Knizia’s Merchants of Amsterdam [laughs]. I don’t come up with any original ideas. To me it’s more the combination of ideas that make a game interesting.”



“I really knew nothing about this whole process, so I didn’t try to pitch it to anybody. I just said, ‘I want to make it myself.’ But I discovered it was really hard back then to find good quality card stock that you can print in small numbers. So I bought this war-era Kluge letter press and an offset printer so I could gloss the cards; I got a bit side-tracked by making cards for people, like wedding gifts and poker cards. Then I remembered the reason I did this was to make my own game, so I had to research how to make boxes, I stole art from the internet – though it was medieval art that wasn’t copyrighted – and I basically just physically made my own game. A couple hundred of them. I sent them out to people on BoardGameGeek and one guy in particular, stormseeker75, wrote this amazing review, so I got requests. Eventually, somehow, one copy made it to France, into the hands of Iello, and they contacted me and asked me if they could publish it.”



“Basically it’s For Sale on steroids. In the first half you’re collecting stuff; in the second half there’s an auction. There’s five types of books – think of them as suits – and you’re trying to collect those different suits, whose value is determined by the dice on the board. But you can use Church cards to manipulate the dice, so by the end of the game the five suits have different values. In the second half you auction off all the cards that were put in an auction pile. Everybody compares each suit for the highest value and then you win the die with the point value.”



Biblios has been published in many different languages, it’s sold over 60,000 copies, and Iello’s now re-theming it as a game called For the King (and Me), which will maybe give it some more life. It’s the thing that allowed me to make a business and continue to get my games published.”



“Playtest it a lot [laughs]. With a lot of different people. And listen to what people say, but with a grain of salt. You need to decide if the advice you’re hearing is legitimate or not. It’s very tricky.”  

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