Interview with David Ladyman of Trader’s Luck Games/Origin/Cloud Imperium

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David Ladyman is a journeyman of the gaming world having worked with some of the industry’s best in Chris Roberts, Steve Jackson, Richard Garriot and many more. He has been a part of some major developers of fine games including Steve Jackson Games, Origin, Cloud Imperium, EA helping with games such as Car Wars, GURPS, Battletech, Ultima, Wing Commander and even Star Citizen. Originally David developed Star Traders under Steve Jackson games and had it published by them in 1987 but as time has past the need to update it and re-release it was needed. With such he currently has Star Traders up for Kickstarter with fresh new take on the game both rules wise and art.

You can find Star Traders Kickstarter here:

What differences did you implement in this version of Star Traders compared to the 1987 version?

I’ll give you what I think are the two biggest differences to game play from the original version, and the biggest “cosmetic” change. First, the worlds in Star Traders are connected by jump lines — the longer the jump, the higher the roll you have to make for a successful jump. In the original version, you had to declared what jump you were attempting before you rolled; if you didn’t make that roll, you didn’t move. In the new version, you roll and then decide where you’re going. If you really want to make a jump that requires a 6, and you roll a 5, you can’t make the 6 jump, but you can take any jump that requires a 5 or less.
Second, the original game had 72 Contracts cards that determine what needs to be delivered where. It also had 65 Trader’s Luck cards that let you grab bonuses or delay your opponents. In the new version, I combined them, so that each card has a Trader’s Luck result on one end and a Contract on the other end. With 108 cards (fewer than the 65 + 72 we had in the original version), we get more: 108 Trader’s Luck cards and 108 Contracts.
Cosmetic: There were seven worlds in the original game named after SF authors. Nearly every world (of 36) is now named after an author. Similarly, nearly every Trader’s Luck card refers to an SF TV series or movie.

Y’all mentioned that there are subtle references to various scifis in the game, did you add any from newer series/movies?

“It’s Bigger On the Inside” (giving you extra actions in a turn) / “All Your Station Are Belong To Us” (giving you access to someone else’s stations) / perhaps a few others. There’s a Star Citizen card. They cover a wide range of years. =]

Does Star Traders have a good “come from behind” play, in other words does it avoid the leader running away with play problem that a lot of games like Ticket to Ride and others suffer from?

I actively worked to give it mechanisms that inhibit runaway leaders. That isn’t to say it can’t happen — if you get really lucky, you can jump ahead and win. But with Trader’s Luck cards, there are lots of opportunities to delay the leader and grab advantages yourself.

In the unfortunate event that you don’t meet your goal, do you have other avenues of options in order to get your game released, maybe a different Publisher or lower goal?

Sadly, it isn’t really possible to reduce the goal, because it’ll take that much money to print 1000 games. We could publish fewer than that, but we’d have to jack the price up to cover the increased cost of goods. As with just about any mass production, the more you make, the lower the cost of goods per unit.
And it’s unlikely to appeal to a publisher without some evidence that it will be popular.

What drove you into being so fascinated with Science Fiction? 

I actually didn’t like SF when I first encountered it, in my teens. A lot of the most well known stories, written during the post-nuclear Cold War, were pretty depressing. I got back into it in my twenties, and found that there was a lot of entertaining fiction out there. In general, speculative fiction (both SF and fantasy) starts with a “what if …?” and launches the story from there, which can be fascinating.

You mentioned that you wanted people to expand their horizons of scifi from your Star Traders references, what works would you highly recommend someone read, maybe something that isn’t even very well known?

I’ve got over thirty authors in the game, and you’re asking me to pick one to recommend? Not possible. J On the website (with links from the Kickstarter site), I’m posting brief descriptions of every author in the game, plus a note about the special cargo that each world exports. So pick any one of them — you can’t go wrong.
If you want another one (I could have filled a couple of games with good authors!), check out Lee Killough, William Tenn or H. Beam Piper.

Authors Here

Star Traders seems to have several levels of difficulty according to your kickstarter, can you describe what each of those are and how they impact play?

There are five versions. In the mid-level version (the Family game), you have 5 actions a turn, which are used to jump from world to world, build stations and pick up cargos. You hold a couple of Trader’s Luck cards. When you reach victory conditions (enough $tarBucks, Prestige and Stations), you petition the Emperor to be granted an Imperial Mission, and the first one to complete an Imperial Mission wins the game.
In the Nova version (“Nova” referring to new players) for ages 10+, you have only 4 actions a turn, but they’re only used to jump — picking up cargos and building stations don’t take actions, so you just have to count jumps. You have Trader’s Luck cards, but only the easiest and least aggressive ones. The first player to 15 Prestige and 60 $tarBucks wins the game.
The Super Nova version (for ages 7+) is like the Nova version, but it doesn’t have Trader’s Luck cards — just Contracts. (That means less reading, fewer decisions and even less conflict.)
At the other end, the fourth version is the Imperial game. The only difference between it and the Family game is that you add the final 36 Trader’s Luck cards, including the most complicated and the most aggressive cards in the deck. That’s where we have “Lose a Station,” “Steal a Station,” “Switch Cargos,” and so forth. (Also “Skroob Proclaims,” by which everyone takes a station from the player on the right!) The strategy in the Family and Imperial games is a lot the same, but with the extra cards in the Imperial game, you have to be aware of more possibilities.
The fifth version is the Black Hole game, because it takes so long. It’s the same as the Imperial game, but you must successfully petition the Emperor several times, rather than just once. It doesn’t really take hours and hours, but it will take longer than a one-petition game.

What would you say was your biggest influence in making Star Traders, what drove you to design the game?

I really like pick-up-and-deliver games — building a network and figuring the most efficient way to get from here to there — but too often they don’t have much player interaction; you develop your own travel network and complete your own contracts. You can sometimes plot out four or more turns in advance, and know no one can get in your way.
Plotting out that many turns in advance is just not possible in Star Traders. Too many things can (and will) happen that require you to adjust your plans. With Contracts open to all players, there is significant interaction between players. And with the Trader’s Luck cards, there’s even more interaction.
And as you mentioned above, in a traditional game you can sometimes know before it’s halfway over who’s going to win — everyone keeps accumulating money until someone declares victory. What’s the fun (or climax) in that? With the petitions mechanic, the front-runner usually postpones a petition until it is more assured (giving other players time to get a little closer). It isn’t unusual for everyone in a game to be working on their own Imperial Mission by the time someone wins.
So: both my enjoyment of pick-up-and-deliver games and my frustration with what I saw as shortcomings were my biggest influences in making Star Traders. But what drove me to make it is that Steve Jackson declared a competition for a new boardgame design to be used with the “Isaac Asimov Presents” license that SJG had acquired. Star Traders was the result.

After you left SJG you went to work for Origin sometime after, what was your most memorable moment working with Chris?

I’ve gotta say that the overall enjoyment I had working as Publications Manager at Origin is perhaps the most memorable experience. There were plenty of frustrations, but being able to make manuals and game guides the way I wanted to, with significant immersion from the first page of the manual (rather than a simple set of play instructions) was deeply rewarding. This definitely applied to the docs my team created for Chris’s games, but also for Richard Garriott, Warren Spector, Andy Hollis and others at Origin (both before and after EA’s involvement).
But a specific moment? I’ll have to give a little background. At that time, the docs had to be ready when the discs were duplicated and ready to ship. But it took longer to print a doc than it did to duplicate a disc. That meant that we had to send docs to the printer before the dev team finished programming the game. As you might guess, it can be a problem when we have to describe how a game plays before the devs finish deciding how it plays. There came a time that an installation guide had to be turned in before the actual game install had been programmed. I went to Chris and presented the problem. His answer? “Write it the way you think it should be, and that’s how we’ll do it.” He trusted us to create a reasonable sequence, and that’s how it was subsequently programmed.

Was there one game while with Origin that you were especially proud of working on?

Hmm … which of your kids do you love the most? Being able to contribute to the immersion of a game was always something to be proud of. But I think I’ll pick a non-Roberts game to answer this. Both the Ultima and the Wing Commander series were (and still are) awesome in how they created not just a game, but a world in which you could feel like a living character. Wing Commander could just keep building; for Ultima, there was a defined completion point (not counting Ultima Online, of course). Ultima IX would be the final Ultima. For this game, we were able to give it a fitting send-off, both with the in-game docs and the separate game guide. And Chris McCubbin (one of my writers) wrote nine very short, very apt stories, defining the nine Virtues upon which Ultima was based, and tying each one to one of the Avatar’s nine Companions.

How did you feel about EA’s eventual acquisition of Origin and eventual destruction of the group?

I was there when EA acquired Origin, and I was eventually part of the attrition. EA was a publicly held company, and responsible to its stockholders to make a profit. Five years after EA acquired Origin, it determined that the Origin Publication Department wasn’t in its best interests, and we left. But at the beginning of that five years, I got a 40% raise (that continued to grow) and significantly better benefits. Those were five really good years, and while I disagreed with their final decision, I can’t second-guess it.

Hypothetically, if you had as much funds as Star Citizen has received (besides Star Traders) is there a game you would have liked to design?

Points to you for an entirely new question; I’ve never considered this before; the question is a bit boggling. One possible direction is staring me in the face: I don’t see a better way of doing what Chris (and company) are attempting to do with Star Citizen. Thinking about it, though, what fascinates me most is creating elegant mechanics, and that can be done on any budget whatsover — I was once contracted to design a 2-page game, and I created a combat results table based on rock-paper-scissors.

What has it been like to be back with Chris Roberts and to help with making one of the biggest crowd sourced projects in Star Citizen?

With studios around the world, this team is larger than any other I’ve worked on, but I am actually closer to Chris and the process than I ever was at Origin. A large part of that is that I’m responsible for Jump Point (the subscriber PDF magazine), which is a monthly chronicle of how the game is being made. And this is longer than I’ve ever worked on a game before — with docs, you generally don’t come in until the last few months of a project.
It is fascinating to be this close to the process, to be able to sit down with devs of all sorts and talk to them about how they’re making the game. And doubly so because it’s never been done before.

What do you enjoy playing in your free time?

Well, I’ve been playing a lot of Star Traders recently. J Beyond that, mostly board games (are you surprised?). Seven Wonders, The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Love Letter, Kemet, Quirkle, Smash Up, Kingmaker, and so on.

For that matter in your free time away from games what do you enjoy doing?

Another easy one. J I read lots of fantasy and SF. And I don’t know if it counts as free time, but I enjoy creating Bible workbooks.

Favorite Food?

Comfort food. Cobbler, pasta, fruit … could I be more boring?

Who are your favorite Fantasy/SF writers?

Naming favorite writers is gonna be difficult — I like a lot of them. I’ll pull out one at random: Glen Cook’s Garrett, P.I. series is definitely a favorite, especially since I also enjoy mysteries and the characters are based on one of my favorite mystery series, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe.

What are your favorite Books and what are your favorite Movie/TV Series?

Favorite Movie/TV Series: things that have depth, and aren’t just an adventure-of-the-week. Firefly (that’s easy); Babylon 5; Farscape (more for its interesting premise; it verges on the adventure-of-the-week). Doctor Who (ditto). The Prisoner, especially after I wrote a GURPS sourcebook for it. The Princess Bride (movie & book).

What do you have in your PC? (hardware)

First, it’s a Mac. J A MacBook Pro, 15-inch Retina, tricked out for desktop publishing:
2.5 GHz Intel Core i7
16 GB
NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M 2 GB


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I would like to personally thank David for his time and hope his Kickstarter succeeds.

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