By David Taylor
In 2015 I had started out with an idea I had called “The Cardboard Bridge.” As a guest on the Meeple Syrup show, a question was asked about an opportunity for content in the boardgame community. I had responded with a need to offer more exposure for the creators of the games we enjoy. My first installment was my Designer of the Year for 2015, Alexander Pfister, where I talked about him and his games.
This year I am proud to announce my choice for Designer of the Year for 2016. Let’s get to know him. Without further ado, my choice is Kane Klenko. I had an opportunity to interview Kane and I wanted to share more about him.
LET’S GET TO KNOW KANE
Kane Klenko lives in Wisconsin along with his wife and 2 sons. Outside of game design, Kane works in the real estate industry as a mortgage closer at a bank. Kane has been designing games since 2010, with his first published games coming in 2014 with Mad City from Mayfair Games’ Fun Fair line, and Pressure Cooker from Rio Grande Games. Both of these games are real-time games, where the driving mechanic of the game is time.
In 2015, Dead Men Tell No Tales, published by Minion Games was released. This game was not a real-time game, but a cooperative game that uses the classic action point allowance system with some interesting twists. It is a pirate-themed game where players are trying to loot a burning ship.
In late 2015, early 2016, Renegade Game Studios released FUSE, which is yet another real-time game. I asked Kane, what his attraction to real-time games was. Kane responded: “Before I started designing real-time games I had only played one or two of them. Early on, when I was first starting to design, I was thinking about why video games are so much bigger than board games. One of the things that stuck with me was the real-time nature of most video games. My goal is to have most of my games accessible to a mass market audience, so I thought that real-time games might be a way to do that. Once I started designing them I was hooked. The playtests were always fun and lively, and I seemed to have a knack for coming up with new real-time mechanics.”
In 2016, Renegade Game Studios released Covert at Gen Con. This game is a strategy game that uses a unique dice placement mechanic for choosing actions. To me this showed Kane’s maturity as a designer, with Covert coming in #3 on my top games of 2016 and at this point is my favorite game that he has designed. I asked Kane if there was any back story for Covert. Here is what Kane had to say, “In December 2014 I was reading the rules to Bora Bora, hoping to play it sometime soon (which didn’t happen). After reading the rules I had the thought that it would be fun to try to design a medium weight Euro dice game.” Coming off of his design work with FUSE, Kane said he wanted to challenge himself to make a heavier game using dice. I was really surprised when Kane revealed that the design for Covert, which is a bigger game, was done in only a few months.
Kane makes an appearance in the game as one of the characters. This was a promo card that was in Santa’s Renegades.
I asked Kane what designers have inspired him. At the top of the list are Reiner Knizia and Wolfgang Kramer. These two are also some of Kane’s favorite designers. Kane says he loves that they have a wide range of styles, and that even their heavier games are intuitive and streamlined. He also appreciates Vlaada Chvatil in that he tries to be innovative and try new things. Kane says he is more inspired just by playing different types of games, or even movies, tv shows, random conversations, etc. Kane states, “My mind is always thinking about the next game, and anything can trigger what that will be.”
We all have our favorite games and so I had asked Kane about his. His reply, “This might seem like a lame answer, but my honest 2 favorite games are Covert and the upcoming Flatline. I probably shouldn’t pick my own games, but I guess that makes sense since I can make my games whatever I want them to be. I worked on them until they were my favorites. Other than those, I’d say my favorites are Ra, Dominion, and Pandemic. They all have one main thing in common for me: a simple and unique mechanical hook, and accessible and fun gameplay. That’s what my goal is with my games, and I think those 3 games nailed it. Every time I play Pandemic I still am amazed at how brilliant that card mechanic is.”
WHY I CHOSE KANE KLENKO AS DESIGNER OF THE YEAR
I have been familiar with Kane’s designs and his games since they started releasing in 2014. For me personally, I am not a big fan of real-time games, so typically they don’t hit my table, so Mad City and Pressure Cooker are not in my collection. However, I do appreciate the designs and the effort to make them. I did enjoy Dead Men Tell No Tales and I thought the game was well designed and showed a forward direction in Kane’s design ability. I like the action point allowance mechanic with the twist of being able to pass action points to other players. This was a clever idea that works well in Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Although FUSE released in December 2015, it really did not start showing up until 2016, so I will go ahead and say that Kane had 2 releases in 2016. It was with these 2 designs that I saw Kane really mature in his game design. FUSE uses the real-time mechanic along with dice that results in a super tense cooperative game that is 10 minutes of adrenaline. Although I don’t own FUSE, there are people in my gaming group that do own it and at this point is the only real-time game I will play (at least for now). I still have not won the game and I will probably blame our group for not addressing the issue that we only have 10 minutes to save the world, so time is of the essence.
Covert is the game that made my choice for Designer of the Year very simple. Covert was on my Gen Con Games of Interest Geeklist and when I first played it, I knew the game was going to be one of my top games of the year. In Covert, the actions players take are dictated by where players place their dice on these rings. Each ring has space for 6 dice, 1 space for each pip side. What makes this design really shine is that when players go to place their dice, they can only be placed in the open spaces adjacent to a die that has already been placed.
This unique dice placement mechanic showed me that Kane upped the ante in game design. And it is this maturity in game design that warrants Kane being selected as my Designer of the Year.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR KANE
Of course I had to ask Kane, what he was working on and what he had coming out. So based upon what he could discuss, here is what Kane has coming up in the near future. First, this Spring, Kane’s favorite game Flatline will be coming from Renegade Game Studios. Yes, Kane has 3 games published by them and he likes working with Renegade and they like his designs.
An expansion for Dead Men Tell No Tales called Kraken is in the works because Kane says “the game needs to be harder, right??”
I asked Kane : Any plans for more strategy games like Dead Men Tell No Tales or Covert? Kane did reveal this: “I do have one game that should be out at Gen Con that is closer to that weight, but probably a little lighter. Other than that it’s just whatever inspiration hits and I get excited about. I literally have new game ideas every day. I can’t work on them all, so I just write them down and move on. Sometimes there’s an idea that just won’t let go, as was the case with Covert. When that happens I just go with it, whether that’s a 10 minute filler or a 90 minute strategy game. I never know what’s coming next, and it’s kind of fun that way. Sometimes there’s a plan, like with an expansion, and I’m hoping Covert does well enough to warrant an expansion, because I already have some good ideas tested and I want to see it get made.”
WHERE CAN YOU MEET KANE?
One of the great things about this hobby and industry is the convention scene. Kane attends one major convention: Gen Con. Other than that, he goes to conventions that are local to him such as Gameholecon in Madison and Nexus in Milwaukee. He also attends Protospiel to test out his game designs. Kane says, “Wherever I am though I go to meet with publishers, make connections, and show my games to people. I’ve never gone to a convention to actually play games.” Kane says he is planning on attending BGG.con this year, probably running demos for his 2017 releases.
BRINGING IT ALL BACK
I am proud to name Kane Klenko as my choice for 2016 Designer of the Year. He has shown great strides in his game design ability, especially with Covert. I am looking forward to his future work and I am glad that he took the time to share a bit about himself for you to read. So again congratulations to Kane and I wish him much success both for 2017 and in the future.