Zack Hiwiller Talks ScribbetownJune 1, 2021
We catch up with the designer of Scribbletown, Zack Hiwiller, and talk about the story behind the game.
For those that don’t know about Scribbetown, could you tell us a little bit about the gameplay?
Zack: Scribbletown is a low-luck roll-and-write about building a town. Each turn, four custom dice are rolled: two show buildings you can draw and two show road segments you can draw. Players can choose any two of these four to build with on their turn. Each building type scores in a different way. Businesses, for example, score for each Neighborhood they can reach by road.
Each game also has six Special Building cards drawn from a deck. These buildings have high-scoring potential but require a cluster of three specific buildings to already be built in the city. For example, you may need a cluster of Farm/Park/Business somewhere to be able to build it instead of having a normal turn.
There’s also Waste to contend with. Each time you build a Factory, build a second road on a hex or build a Special Building, you will gain Waste. When you fill-up a row of Waste on your board, you gain a Junk Pile, a useless pile of trash that uses up one of your hexes and an opponent chooses where it goes. So you really want to time getting Junk Piles to when your opponent doesn’t have opportunities to screw up your plans.
There’s a big deck of Special Buildings and we also have a deck of Department cards that provide the structure for solo play or for a variant that doesn’t include drawing on other players’ boards for folks that don’t like that level of confrontation.
Every game has a story behind it, what is the story behind the creation of Scribbletown?
Zack: Scribbletown was the first design I ever signed. It was back in 2017. I worked with an established publisher that you may know. A version of it was even shown at Spiel in 2019. When the game was first signed there weren’t really any options for a meatier, strategic roll and write. But sometimes things don’t work out and I asked for the rights back when the contract expired in early 2020. I reworked some elements and launched a Kickstarter, intending to just throw it out there. The design had been vetted by years of development and plenty of good words from early previewers and reviewers.
I underestimated a number of elements of having a successful campaign. So I took all the information I learned from the first campaign and went back to the drawing board. I enlisted the talents of Marlies Berends, the artist most recently known for the game Three Sisters to redo all of the art and her work is transformative in how the product looks. I developed a more fleshed-out version of the solo mode and the aforementioned non-confrontational mode that people in the original campaign cited as a reason they might not like the game.
Finally, I’ve been scouring the world for manufacturers that can help keep costs down while delivering the high quality that I personally expect from serious publishers. 2020 did a number on the services independent publishers use: paper costs have skyrocketed, shipping costs have jumped from all the changes in the world, and different approaches from governments with regards to taxes and customs have all conspired to increase costs. Nonetheless. I have worked to decrease costs from the original campaign.
People love the design, the new art is fantastic, and I think people are really going to get a lot of joy out of Scribbletown with the new campaign.
There are a lot of Special Buildings in this game, and each building has its own unique symbol you draw to represent it. Obviously, you want to keep the drawings simple, as not to be daunting to players. Did you find it difficult to come up with all those symbols, keeping them simple and different from all the other ones?
Zack: Coming up with symbols was the easy part; after all, there is no penalty if you can’t draw a good-looking chef’s hat for the bakery. As long as you know what it is, that’s good enough. I’ve had playtesters ignore the drawing and write in letters or numbers or whatever reminds them of the special building. That’s no problem. The original symbol for the Farm was a cow and no one could draw it. While it was fun to have everyone laugh at everyone else’s cows, it just took much time so I changed it to the simpler barn.
The harder part was making sure that every Special Building had a reasonable case to use. Since every game has six Special Buildings, I never wanted a building to be “oh, you have to take that one when it comes up”. I want every game to be a unique puzzle of how to best fit a combination of Special Buildings along with the normal buildings that power them. It took some time, but I think we got it.
The new art I have seen so far for Scribbletown is really amazing looking. It shows a bunch of little scenes/tiny illustrated stories that are happening around your town. Do you have a favorite tiny story in the art?
Zack: I love tiny details in board game art. Rampage/Terror in Meeple City has a bunch of little easter eggs in it. Agricola has some home tiles where the family has Agricola on the table. Scythe has some pop-culture stuff hidden in the map. I gave Marlies a list of possible “scenes” to choose from like “dog dragging his owner while chasing a squirrel” or “guy eating a comically large sandwich” and she made a bunch of details work. There’s a beekeeper obviously sharing his hobby with a friend who is not equipped for it and is running away and that might be my favorite. It’s all Marlies there.
As we come to a close, first off, thank you for your time. Second, our last question is what three adjectives would you pick to describe Scribbletown’s gameplay?
Zack: Thinky (I know it isn’t a word, but that’s what people keep using!), Accessible, Challenging
Scribbletown will be on Kickstarter sometime in June 2021