Key Largo and Paul Randles
My pal Mike Selinker just had his latest game published: Key Largo. Mike’s a wonderful and imaginative designer and has created a number of excellent games, but this one is something special because of his co-designers: Bruno Faidutti and Paul Randles. Bruno is one of the great European board game designers, but Paul’s the one that makes this project something Mike cares about so much.
Mike and Paul were the best of friends, but Paul died of pancreatic cancer just over five years ago. At the time, they were working on Paul’s final game design, which eventually became Key Largo, a game we can now all enjoy. Anyhow, Mike can explain it all far better than I. It’s a poignant story, of course, but rather than being a tale of woe, it ends up being a tribute to a great friend.
Paul Randles’ Final Game: Key Largo
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
In February 2003, Pirate’s Cove designer Paul Randles died of cancer. That
story didn’t have a happy ending. This one does.
A year earlier, Paul drafted a deep-sea diving board game he called Treasure
Hunt. Players would salvage treasure from shipwrecks off the Florida coast.
The game had pop-up boats, and little cardboard shipwrecks with treasure
disks. Paul wanted a European publisher to publish it, but it wasn’t good
enough yet. A solid 6 on the scale of 1 to 10, he said. It better at least
be a 9 before it hit the street.
Then he got sick. I didn’t know how to help. My wife did. Evon suggested I
ask Paul for Treasure Hunt. I’d develop the game with him, and then find a
publisher to put it out. For the last months of his life, we worked on the
I gave him a 21-Nerf-gun salute at his funeral, and told the legions of game
industry folk there that I was shopping Treasure Hunt. It was a pretty good
game by this point. Maybe an 8.
At an Ohio convention, I met Bruno Faidutti, the French designer of
Citadels. He knew of Paul and wanted to help. Within a month he had
restructured the game he was now calling Treasure Island into a great game.
A 9 for sure. Gone were the pop-up boats and the cardboard shipwrecks,
replaced now by full-size boats and card decks of sunken treasure. Now we
could find someone to publish it.
Every publisher wanted to see the game, because Paul had a lot of friends. A
major American board game company wanted to convert it to a dungeon-crawl
game. I thanked them and declined. (Side story: Based on this, I did design
that dungeon game, with my co-designer James Ernest of Cheapass Games. That
game, Dungeonville, came out from two more publishers, Z-Man Games and
Pegasus Spiele. So Paul’s game has a son, and he’s bilingual.)
Then Tilsit Editions of France made an offer, which Bruno, Paul’s widow
Katty, and I accepted. Editor Nicolas Anton proposed adding people you could
meet on the island, the last thing the game needed to become a 10 out of 10.
Tilsit renamed it Key Largo, gave it a fancy cover and a modular board, and
released it in 2005 in German, Italian, and French. Which was great, except
I don’t speak any of those languages very well.
But I do speak English, and I do know Lisa Stevens, the CEO of Paizo
Publishing. Lisa was looking to start a new line of board games, which
eventually I helped forge into Titanic Games, the publisher of the color
version of Kill Doctor Lucky and Stonehenge: An Anthology Board Game.
Titanic needed a third game, so I looked at the name of the company and
said, “How about one about sinking ships?”
How about it indeed, she said. And so, in February 2008, five years to the
month after Paul’s passing, Titanic Games will be releasing the full-color
English version of Key Largo, with all-new art and all-new components
delivered by graphic designer James Davis. The English edition has a large
one-piece board, nice wooden boats, fifteen delightful divers, and beautiful
cards with art from Ben Huen and Andrew Hou. Everyone we’ve shown it to says
it’s a work of art. I like those people.
The game has undergone a lot of facelifts since Paul’s fun little prototype,
but there’s something unmistakably Paul-ish in the final version. That’s why
the money in the game bears the inscription “E Paulibus Unum,” which I can
pretend means “In Paul We Trust.”
I can’t play Key Largo with Paul, but now I can play it with you.