Interview: Toby Fairclough of Mushroom Gaming Co.

Interview: Toby Fairclough

Recently we found out about a game called Fishy Tactics that made its way to Kickstarter. The game is bright, portable and comes with a wooden crocodile. Nothing is better than wooden crocodiles!

We want to introduce you to the creator of Fishy Tactics and the man behind Mushroom Gaming Co., Toby Fairclough. He’s putting his passion for tabletop gaming into creating fun, family-friendly games that we’re excited about.

Can you pinpoint a time in your life where you initially fell in love with board games and tabletop gaming?
When I was young I did play board your traditional tabletop gaming – Monopoly, Clue, Battleships, cards… But video games were more my scene.

It wasn’t really until University that I got into board gaming as a real hobby. I lived with a group of lads and we’d often play video games together, but some of our friends weren’t that interested. So I stumbled onto Zombies!!! and we started playing that too!

Then I met the Chapman family who were big into games and introduced me to the likes of Catan, Carcassonne, Dominion… and I’ve never looked back.

Tell us a little about the role that games play in an average week for you?
Funnily, most of my gaming is done at work! About a year ago I started running a weekly ‘Board Game Social’ one lunch time a week (in part, as a sneaky way to tell people about my games and play test the new ones). The numbers vary week to week, but there’s usually about 8 people that come, but we’ve had as many as 12 some weeks.

A few core members are big into gaming, but most of the people that come are just there to have fun and do something different over lunch. That usually means most of the time I’m playing/teaching gateway, filler and party games, as we’ve only got an hour and the numbers vary so much – but it’s nice!

My wife’s into gaming too, so we’ll sometimes have a date night of games for just the two of us. And I’ve got several groups of friends at church that are into games too. Well, some probably aren’t that into games, but are willing to put up with me bringing round my latest creation!

A couple years ago, you started more than just ‘playing games’. What inspired you to start developing your own games?
I suppose it all started when I was at Uni. We’d play quite a bit of Zombies!!! and I started thinking of ways to mix things up a bit. We didn’t have any of the expansions, so I began writing an extra rule book to give it a bit of variety. It was maybe a year later that I had a conversation with my brother one Christmas (Jason Fairclough of Thunderchild Miniatures) and we thought it’d be fun to create a game together. We went our separate ways and came back together with two very different games.

My game didn’t last long, but from there I spent the next 2-3 years making my first real game, Superfy.

Your game Fishy Tactics is the first game you’re bringing to Kickstarter community. What made this game a good candidate for crowdfunding?
Despite having two other games more or less at the same stage of development (fleshed out prototypes, hundreds of hours of play testing by many many play testers), they’re big box games with lots of parts and pretty expensive to produce and sell.

Since this was my first venture into Kickstarter I was expecting most of the funding was going to come from friends, family and the few people I could persuade in gaming forums – so I was keen to bring a small game which only needed a small goal.

Fishy Tactics also had a large advantage in that the prototypes weren’t too expensive to make, so I could send them to reviewers without re-mortgaging the house! As a comparison a prototype for Fishy Tactics cost me around £10-15, while a prototype for Scuttler’s Island cost around £50-70 and that’s before shipping…

Another big advantage for Fishy Tactics, especially with it being my first campaign, is that I’ve sourced the manufacturing from a number of different companies, most of which are based in the UK or EU. Since I used these companies for the prototypes it means that I’ve been able to do a quality check of the game before mass production. It also has given flexibility with add-ons and the different game package options too!

Fishy Tactics

What was your reaction when you found that Fishy Tactics reached its goal so quickly?
Shock! I know that, compared to many games on Kickstarter, £1500 isn’t a high funding goal. But as I mentioned earlier, I was only really expecting family and a few friends to back.

With the full game being available from just £10 and hearing (many times) on forums that family games don’t do well on Kickstarter, I wasn’t expecting much. With the game being so cheap advertising looks very expensive (so far I’ve not done any paid advertising).

But on the day of the launch I was really emotionally confused! I guess it was a mixture of nerves, excitement, disbelief… I had around 90 backers in the first day, most of whom I didn’t know and from all corners of the planet. It’s a really odd feeling!

For our families out there, what makes this a great game for both kids and adults?
Fishy Tactics is bright, colourful and very tactile. After finishing a game with my niece (who’s 4), she spent an half hour just playing around with the croc and fish meeples. With almost all the pieces being made of wood or fabric, it travels really well too – so great to shove in a bag or pop it in your pocket.

But really it’s the gameplay that makes it so ideal for family gaming. Not only can it help kids develop their skills in strategic thinking, numeracy and calculating probabilities, but it’s fun for the adults too!

In essence, the game is a roll and move game – something most kids will be familiar with. You spin the spinner (now upgraded to rolling the arrow), move the croc; roll the die, move a fish. And it can be played as simply as that if you want to. But there are a number of simple strategies (or tactics) you can employ as well. Fish can be piled on top of each other to prevent the ones underneath being moved; you can feed the croc to stop an opponent scoring; you can sacrifice the last fish to end the game quickly if you’re in the lead…

Oh and there’s also the stealing! If you roll a 6 (now a fish on the upgraded special custom dice) rather than move a fish from the board, you choose an opponent and steal a fish at random.

If you’re going to steal to win, really you need to way up the probabilities of how likely you’re going to get the high scoring fish and whether your opponent will then have a grudge against you for the rest of the game!

It’s this mix of player interaction, light strategy and use of familiar gameplay mechanics (roll and move) which makes the game so approachable and friendly – as a family game or as a gateway/filler game for the adults.

Looking into the next 12 months, what is a goal that you have for Mushroom Gaming Co. and for you as a designer?
Immediately after the campaign, my priority will be to order, ship and fulfill the pledges from the Kickstarter. Once that’s complete and everyone’s happy, I then hope to set up sales through my website and some local stores, but probably not until next year. I’ve had a few requests from retailers during the campaign too, so I’ll be exploring these as well. Beyond this, if Fishy Tactics continues to be successful, I hope to bring one of my larger games to Kickstarter (probably Scuttler’s Island).

I’m usually constantly tinkering with new game ideas, but prepping for and running a campaign takes a long time and a lot of work, so hopefully I’ll get some time to do some more designing and flesh out a few new ideas I’ve been having too!

Check out Fishy Tactics on Kickstarter today