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A Button Shy Micro Chat on Pentaquark

Posted by Ryan Sanders on

Welcome to the first edition of Micro Chat, here on the Button Shy blog. It is something new we are trying with the goal to introduce readers to the the wallet game that is currently on Kickstarter. In each edition, we will be interviewing the designer of the game and learn a little bit about the story behind the game.


Our interview today is with designer Mike Mullins (Bottom of the 9th and many solo game variants) on his Button Shy wallet game, Pentaquark, which launched today on Kickstarter. In Pentaquark, which is a solo player game, you are trying to give science a little helping hand by collecting the 5 quarks that form this particle at the detector of a massive particle collider. Move cards you need to the detector, discard others so they may come back as anti-quarks, and try to minimize the number of quarks scattered and lost. If too many cards are removed from the game, the Pentaquark has slipped through undetected once again!

Mike, thanks agreeing to do this interview. The very first thing that pops to mind is the theme of Pentaquark – it is pretty unique. How did you come up with the theme?

Mike: I unabashedly love science.

I was a biology major and chemistry minor at Duke. Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe is one of my favorite books, and I still read about theoretical physics for recreation. If a game in my collection isn't playable solo, there's a good chance it has a science theme.

Did you go in knowing you wanted to make a wallet-size card game for Button Shy or did it just turn out that way? What the story behind the creation of Pentaquark?

Mike: I've worked with Jason ever since he did a design contest for his Pixel Lincoln playing cards. It has been a lot of fun testing and developing games with him, and when he started his wallet line, he all but demanded a game from me.

The wallet line got its start with several great social games; the 18 card design space and the success of games like Love Letter were the perfect crucible. Jason is super proud of these games, but he wanted the Buttonshy brand to grow.

I've tossed around many different games that feature particle physics, but none of them did justice to its elegance. I'm sure "elegance" will raise an eyebrow or two (or all), but the fluidity with which these particles interact is amazing, and directly at odds with a large rules load and handfuls of bits. I'm so happy I settled on this vehicle for these quarks.

What was the most challenging part of designing Pentaquark?

Mike: Jason put together a wishlist of 18 card games he wanted to see, and I thought I'd attempt a deck builder. This was the hardest part... so difficult, in fact, that I failed. Nothing I did felt compelling; the cards basically ran out before anything happened. That's when it clicked. Deck building wasn't the way to go, but deck preservation. Set collection of the quarks is the body of the game, but saving quarks from annihilation round to round is what breathed life into it.

What was your favorite part of designing this game?

Mike: The most enjoyable part was the bit that came right after the realization I just mentioned. The game came together quickly, and I was playing it ten or more times a day. I was equal parts excited for the game's potential and happy to be playing a solid solo game.

Though, if I'm really honest with myself, Tagmire's reaction when I told him I had a solo particle physics game for him was tops.


As we wrap this up, if someone is reading this and wanting to design a game that takes 18 cards or less themselves, what advice would you give them?

Mike: Answering this question saw me delete my response over and over, because the process can vary so widely from game to game. Some of the successful designs were built on a very strong concept before the first card was created, and others were the result of just tinkering with words and numbers on cards until something clicked.

I guess I'd remind everyone that the size of a game doesn't determine its worth, nor your responsibilities as a designer. Take it seriously. Test, evaluate, and repeat. Bring a complete game to the publisher; don't disrespect their publication model with a half-realized concept. It will all fall into place with the proper effort.

Thank you, Mike

Mike: Thanks so much for indulging my vanity and talking with me about Pentaquark. When it comes down to it, I'm excited to see it on game tables because I really believe it will offer solo fans some compelling decisions and a bit of a challenge.

For those of you that would like to learn more about Pentaquark gameplay or want to support it on Kickstarter, you can do so by following this link:

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